Perley Payne Oral History Transcript
Interview conducted by Fred Hirsh
March 17, 1999
Labor Archives and Research Center, San Francisco State University
1999, revised 2015
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Labor Archives and Research Center, SFSU
Perley Payne Oral History Transcript
Interviewer: Fred Hirsh [FH]
Interviewee: Perley Payne [PP]
Date: March 17, 1999
Location: In his home, Los Gatos, CA,
[Begin Tape 1 - Side 1 (A)]
FH: You mentioned that your great grandfather came to this area?
PP: And my grandfather too. My great grandfather eame from Missouri, aeross the plains.
FH: In what year?
PP: I’m not sure whether it was 49 or 50. And my grandfather eame by sailing vessel
down to the Isthmus of Panama and then by mule back over to the Pacific Coast and got a
sailing boat from out of Chile up to San Francisco.
FH: Why don’t we stick first with your great grandfather?
PP: The interesting thing that happened, unfortunately, they lost one of their daughters en
route. And not knowing anything about Indians particularly, they stayed behind their
wagon train, which was foolish to begin with, and he took part of the wagon cut it up, to
make a coffin. Then they dug a hole and buried her and then after they buried her they
walked the horses over the grave about eight times so you couldn’t tell someone had been
buried there. They were afraid the Indians would dig her up and scalp her. Really, they
only scalped people they killed in battle, they didn’t pick on dead people already. But
they just didn’t understand. So then they came out here.
FH: How many people in the family?
PP: I don’t know when they came many they had then, but then by the time they were
through, they had about six or eight kids, I think, in the family. Some of them went down
to the San Joaquin Valley later to farm. I might have met one or two of them, but they
were pretty old by the time I came along. One of them we took up to Steven’s Creek
which Captain Stevens was their neighbor and on Steven’s Creek now there’s a McLellan
Park- in Cupertino. Anyway, he settled there and I have a couple stories about him if you
FH: Sure, you knew him?
PP: No, he was dead years before I came along. My grandfather died in 1915. 1 don’t know
when my great grandfather died. I have no idea. You know when you’re a kid, you
should be asking questions, but you don't give a damn. It’s sad, beeause later in life you’d
like to know. I know I’d like to know about life eoming across the plains and all that. My
grandmother didn’t remember because she was only a year old. But anyway, he ran some
cattle up Steven’s Creek and ran them loose. They didn’t have any barbed wire in those
days or anything. He loved to go hiking on a warm summer night and he had a hiking
stick. So he was hiking up Steven’s Creek and he heard the cattle make the funniest darn
sound he’d never heard before. So he went up the side canyons to where the sound was
coming from and there was kind of like a little saucer up there. The cattle were in the
middle of it and they had the calves in the middle. The cows were all facing outwards
with their backs to the calves. Then the two herd bulls were walking around the outside
of them and he was wondering what the heck was going on. So he sat down. The clouds
moved away from in front of the moon and across the little valley from him was the
biggest grizzly bear he’d ever seen. So he sat and watched and pretty soon the lead herd
bull decided to take on the grizzly bear. So he so he started up the little incline until he
got close enough. You know, cows are more vicious than bulls in a lot of ways because
cows will keep their eyes open when they hook you or try to hook you. A bull shuts his
eyes and plows head straight into whatever he’s after. So he closed his eyes and the cow
went plowing into the grizzly bear and the grizzly bear stood up and just then he got close
enough he hit him on the side of his head with one blow of his paw. Knocked his ass over
teakettle and the bull got up and shook his head and walked back down to the herd. After
a while, the bear got up and ambled off and, all the way back down to where he lived, my
great grandfather was a little apprehensive. I imagine the hair on the back of his neck was
standing up because every time a twig would snap he was sure the grizzly bear was
following him. But nothing happened. Then the - 1 don’t know about that bear but the last
bear that got killed around here — The last bear I heard of that got killed in this area was
down at The Pinnacles in 1913. But this bear. I’m sure, was killed earlier. Another time
that the bears killed some of the pigs that he and the neighbor had-and so, their rifles
were such that if you pulled the hammer back too far they wouldn’t fire. You had to be
careful. So they dragged the pig entrails around and hung them up on the barn -above the
bam door so a bear would have to reach up and stand up so they shot at their chests when
they were inside the barn. Sure enough, the bears came and my great grandfather heard
these guys rifles click too far back.
So they didn’t shoot. One alone probably couldn’t stop the damn bear.
Anyway, he had a pair of dogs, hounds, I guess they were called. Watch and Spring. One
night the dogs were making a big racket. And we went to see what it was and they had a
bobcat up a tree and he had his gun. He fired but he didn’t kill the bobcat and the bobcat
came down and came after him and he backed up. Unfortunately he backed up into the
fork of a tree and he couldn’t move either way, and the dogs would come at the bobcat
from one side and he’d turn toward him and the other one came at him. They kept going
back and forth he finally reloaded his gun and shot it. So he had some interesting
FH: Why did he come over the plains? What kind of work did he do before he came over
PP: He farmed. You know, I guess he wanted to eome for the gold rush like everybody else
I suppose. And then he got that place there and then he was a neighbor of Captain
Stevens. Steven’s Creek Road and Steven’s Creek was named after. Finally he moved to
down the valley someplace because he said that if he could hear the neighbors chopping
wood, they were too close. We had the only picture of him so we had reproduced and
gave it to the City of Cupertino.
FH: That was Captain Stevens?
PP: Yes. And he liked my grandmother very much so he made a — it was an interesting
picture. He has boughs on either side like a picture frame and then he has boughs in front
of him about waste high so he’s standing in this little frame [unintelligible]. Cupertino
was glad to have because they didn’t have anything of his.
FH: But it’s the main street of Cupertino, Steven’s Creek Road.
PP: Yeah, right. That’s about all I can think to say about him.
FH: What was their religious background?
PP: I have no idea
And then my grandfather Payne, came across the Isthmus of Panama —
FH: That’s your mother’s father?
PP: No, my father’s father. My mother’s name was Hoag - HOAG. But he came — Talk about
religion. He was only 16 years old and he was making a living for the family as a
teamster. And he loved horses and he should have been a veterinary because people used
to bring him horses from all over the Valley when he lived on Payne Avenue. Anyway he
got home from work as a teamster —
FH: This was your grandfather -- and his first name?
FH: James Payne, Do you know about when he was born?
PP: I’m not sure, but he was 17 when he and he came here and he came here in 1850 so he
was bom about 1833.
FH: That’s a hundred years before me,
PP: Anyway, he came home this evening and went to put his horses in the stables. They only
had a very small stable, probably two stalls or three stalls. People kept their own cow in
those days. So they probably had stalls for two horses and the eow and there were two fat
looking horses them in the stable. They looked like they finished the hay that had been
put in front of them. So he turned them out into the corral and put his horses in and he
rubbed them down. Because even though it was cold back then and a foot of snow on the
ground the horses were still perspiring- sweating you know. So, about that time this fat
preacher came out, rubbing his hands because it was cold and he said, "James, I can’t
have my horses outside. They’re not used to it.” My grandfather said, “I’m sorry but our
horses would get pneumonia if I put them out there.” And he said, "well I can’t help that,
but I can’t have my horses outside.” My grandfather said, “I’m not gonna move them.”
Pretty soon the preacher went back in and [unintelligible]. The preacher used to ride a
circuit and he stayed with different families and, of course, the wives wanted to be good
to the preacher and they’d really feed him well. So he was kind of on the heavy side. My
great grandmother came out and said, "Jim, you’re going to have to do what the preacher
said. He said, Ma, I can’t do it. We make our living with the horses and they’ll get
pneumonia. "Well, I don’t know about that, but you’ll have to do what the preacher says”
He said, "Well I’m not going to do it.” And she said, "Well you’ll have to leave home
He didn’t leave home that night, but he left home a little while after. His dad had arthritis
so bad that he was bedridden. That’s how bad off he was. So, anyway, he went out to
FH: Did he have brothers and sisters?
PP; Yeah. I don’t know about sisters, but I know he had two brothers.
FH: So when he left the home, he wasn’t leaving them hard up.
PP: No. I don’t know what happened, my dad never told me about that. (Coughs.) I’m kind of
hoarse today. Anyway, he went out to Wisconsin. He had a brother-in-law out here [who]
was logging and he worked at logging for about a year. When he came back, his two
brothers - his older brother - was getting ready to go to California. So he said “I’m gonna
go too.” And they said, "No, you’re too young.” And he said, “Fve got my own money
and I'm gonna go.” So he did and he was the only one who didn't get seasick. He went by
sailing vessel down to Panama and got a cross—
FH: Did he hire on as a seamen or —
PP: No, no he got a ride going across Panama.
FH: What do you mean, "He got a ride?” Was he out thumbing?
PP: No, he just bought a ticket on the sailing vessel to go down to Panama and they — my
grandfather and his two brothers — and when they got to the 'West Coast they got a ride —
FH: How did they get across the Isthmus?
PP: On mule back. They caught a sailing vessel out of Chile and came up to San
Francisco. From San Francisco they went up to the mines, mining gold. And he didn’t
like that, so he was in a bar—
FH: Did he stay together with his two brothers?
PP; Yeah. One of his brothers became a captain in the cavalry that rode against the
Indian attacks and stuff up and down California. Anyway, he was in a bar and even
though you weren’t a drinker, there were no other places to go to socialize, you know, so
everybody went to the bar. So a guy pounded on the bar with his six-gun and everybody
got quiet. He said, “I got a contract to pack in supplies from Grand Brown Valley,
Oregon to Boise Idaho and I need some packers. My grandfather said "I’ll go. The guy
said, “You’re kinda little, kinda small and young, but if you want to go. I’ll take you. He
did, and he worked for this guy for a year. In the winter time, when they were packing
across the Snake River- twenty seven times in one day. Every time they crossed, because
it was covered with ice, they had to rough up the ice so the horses feet wouldn’t slide out
from underneath them. He did that for about a year. And he developed an intense hatred
of magpies because some of the packers were not careful of how they put the saddle
blankets on and they’d have the food in them and the food would make a raw spot on the
horses’ shoulders. They’d turn the horses loose in these little canyons to have water and
food and they’d pick them up on the way back. The magpies would sit on the horses
shoulder and keep that sore, not only open, but bigger than it was originally. So my dad
said when he was an old man- he had a muzzle loading old shotgun and anytime a
magpie showed up on the ranch, he was in there loading it and goin' out to blow the
magpie away. I wished I’d known him. He died in 1915 when I was a year old. I was
bom in 1914. Eventually —
FH: Then he settled down, where did he settle?
PP: Asa matter of fact, the first place he bought was about a block from where I live now, on
Shannon Road. And, there’s a big white house there. It’s still there. It was built by some
sea captain because it was a widow’s walk. Have you ever heard of a widow’s walk?
Most people don’t know what it is. It’s a place that you get up on the roof that has a little
rail fence on it, made out of iron and they had them on the east coast because the
widow’s, they’d get up on the roof of the house and look seaward about the time they
expected their husbands to come home from the sea, if they’d been to the Pacific or
wherever. Anyway that house has a widow’s walk which is kind of interesting. And he
lived there for a couple of years, because my uncle George was born there in 1873 and
my dad was bom on Payne Avenue in 1875.
Then, he had this hundred acre on Payne Avenue where he farmed for wheat originally.
Then when my uncle George got older, he got interested in orchards and he planted the
place to walnuts and pmnes and pears - and peaches. He put peaches in between the
pmne trees when they were little. Peaches have a short life. They’re good for about 20 or
25 years, and then he’d pull all those peaches out and let the pmne trees grow. As a result
the prunes were thirty feet apart. Most prune orehards are twenty four feet apart. So
aetually, he didn’t have as many prune trees per aere as most prune orchards. As a result,
he didn’t get the total tonnage either. But the trees didn’t get bigger. They only have a
limited size and they didn’t get bigger being farther apart. I always asked him why they
didn’t interplant, but I don’t know why they didn’t.
FH: He was born about 1833 and he came here about 1852?
PP; [He came here] Forty nine or fifty - I’m not sure which, somewhere along there.
FH: And when he was done packing, what year did he settle here in the Santa Clara
PP: As I say. Uncle George was bom on Chatham Road in 1873. He must have been there a
couple of years before Dad. He already married Phoebe McClellan. And then my dad was
bom on Payne Avenue, as was another brother who died and the twins, Howard and
Louise and my birthday [unintelligible] group, born on Payne Avenue.
FH: When did your grandfather marry and how did that come about?
PP: I don’t know how he met Phoebe McClellan, but she was my great grandfather’s
daughter and they lived in Cupertino. Of course, there wasn’t that many people around,
and you know people did know other people who lived, maybe not very close to them
they knew them. Anyway, they married- 1 don’t know where -and settled on Shannon and
then moved to Payne Avenue, named after my grandfather.
FH: Payne Avenue in San Jose,
PP: How it came about- he bought this property and it had a lane that was dedicated to a road
from Saratoga Avenue to where his place was at the creek. There wasn’t any Payne
avenue over to Winchester in those days. Later in years, the County wanted to put a road
through. Today, people would want a couple of million dollars or something for the lane
but he gave it- he donated it to the County. It was a gravel road and then it went over to
FH: Is that how it came to be named Payne Avenue?
PP: Yes, because he gave the lane. The lane is about a mile long.
FH: Was he involved in any of the civic activity around San Jose?
PP: Not that I know of. As I say, he died in 1915. I’ll tell you a cute story about - he bought
up a real nice horse, well trained gentle horse for my grandmother to drive in the two
wheeled buggy they had in those days- to go shopping in San Jose. What he didn’t know
was- that the horse was real fast. And there was a guy who owned the old Scerosis (?)
Ranch, who was a pretty wealthy man and he had this horse which he thought was the
cat’s meow that he bought off the raee traek in San Jose. And so my grandfather’s in
town one day and some friend of his said, "Hey Jim, you going out to the raee?” He said,
“What are you talking about?” He said, "Well the blaeksmith is going to raee your horse
against the horse from the Seerosis Raneh. My grandfather said, "He didn’t say anything
to me.” Well, anyway, he went out there. The blaeksmith pulled the work shoes off the
horse and put on light raeing horse shoes. So they ran from Graves Avenue, whieh is off
of Saratoga Avenue, down to Payne Avenue. Going that way, my grandfather’s horse
beat the other horse by about two lengths. They bet ten dollars gold whieh, in those days,
was like about a hundred dollars now. Well the guy who owned the other horse said
"Payne’s horse is running towards home.” The Blaeksmith said “I’ll bet you ten bueks
more he’ll beat you going baek the other way.” Going baek the other way, he beat him by
about four lengths. That guy was very unhappy. Anyway, evidently he was quite well
liked and, as I say, people would bring their horses to him when they had horse trouble.
Then my father was raised up there.
FH: What did his wife do? How many kids did they have?
PP: My dad had two brothers and two sisters and he had a brother who died when he was a
FH: And your Great Grandmother, she took care of the family?
PP: No, that’d be my grandmother. My great grandmother never even lived in Cupertino. My
grandmother, she just raised the family.
FH: Did she bring some property or anything into the marriage? She was related to
General McLellan - that was her father?
PP: No, I guess her name was James. My grandfather’s name was James MeLellan. I ean’t
think of his first name. Some of his daughters said he were related to General MeLellan
of the eivil War fame, but there was never any proof of that. They just assumed that and
my smart-ass dad onetime said, “That doesn’t put any more beans in your poeket.” They
got mad and wouldn’t talk to him after that for about a eouple of months. Anyway, Dad
grew up on Payne Avenue and went to high sehool on — I think he went - 1 don’t know if
he eompleted high sehool and then he went to Business College.
FH: Where did he go to high school?
PP: Probably down to Santa Clara. That was the elosest. I’m not sure he went to high sehool.
I think he might have gone right to Business College after grammar sehool. Not right
away, but a few years later. And then he went in partners with another guy and had a
eannery in Campbell. He lost it in 1917.
FH: What kind of cannery? What were they canning?
PP: A fruit cannery. And they lost it in World War I because their main market was in
Hamburg, Germany and they were boyeotted.
FH: How would he ship things from Camphell, California to Hamburg, Germany?
PP: I imagine they went by ship out of San Franeiseo. Unless they went by rail to New
York and then by ship. I don’t know for sure really. You know, he told me something
about his life, but when you're young you don’t really care that much. You listen to him,
being polite, and I remember a lot of his stories but some of the details, for example, like
my dad became quite anti-Semitic because the guy who took over the cannery when he
went bankrupt was Jewish and he worked for him for a while. But I told my dad, "The
guy who let you down was a 32nd Degree Mason. He was your attorney. He was the guy
who screwed you, you know and didn’t stick up and try to salvage something out of the
deal for you.” I said, “Well you shouldn’t be mad at the Jew.” And he’d kinda get a little
grin on his face.
FH: Do you remember the name of the Jew?
PP: Jacobs. Yes indeedy.
FH: How come you remember that so clearly?
PP: I don’t know. I have a funny memory. Sometimes I can’t remember a name of someone I
met a couple of months ago. I think it’s because of short term memory loss when you get
to be 84 years old, but you remember things from way back fairly clearly.
FH: And your mother?
PP: My mother came from Iowa, I believe, by wagon - no, by train. I think they -my
grandfather— and grandmother- went down to San Bernardino first and then they went to
Eureka, then back down here. I don’t know why all the moves, but he was a pretty good
carpenter. He worked - when I got to know him, he was working in a mill over by Big
Basin and he was a heck of a hiker. He’d hike over there in one day from here -through
FH: That’d be about twenty miles through the mountains. That’d be tough.
PP: Anyway, I never got to know him too well. He stayed with us for a while. Matter of fact,
he put a floor on over the top of the porch area. It was a kind of a step down from the rest
of the attic. He put a floor up there and when I got a little older, about twelve, I guess, I
started sleeping up there. He stayed up there for a couple of years. He lived with us. Then
he moved down to Chino where his brother was and he died down there. I think he had
diabetes, too. I didn’t really get to know him. When he died I was only about sixteen and
he’d been down at Chino for two or three years, maybe more. I remember my mother and
my aunt went down for the funeral.
FH: Your mother and father were married at about what age?
PP: Well, my dad was 36, 1 think, and my mother was 19, 1 believe, and they were married
about 1910 or 1 1 beeause my sister was bom about 1912 and I was bom 1914. Then I had
three more sisters and brothers. There were six of us.
FH: What was your family’s attitude toward your sisters and brothers? Did they favor
the boys over the girls?
PP; No, my mom had six kids and was so busy, she didn’t have time to favor anybody over
anyone else. They treated us real even - the best they eould. When things got real tough, I
remember when I was starting in high school. I took the easiest course. Instead of taking
courses that would have allowed me to get into college, I took the easiest courses. I took
what they called Farm English, for example. A lot of the farm kids were in my class. You
know, their folks owned ranches. I took it because it was the easiest one. All I wanted
was to get out of high school and get a job so I could help my dad. There were six kids in
the family and he was making — I remember when I was about fourteen I had to work in
the canneries as what they called ‘Eight hour boys,” we could only work in the daytime
and we had to get a permit from the high school to work. I was getting twenty five cents
an hour as an “Eight Hour Boy” and we were just dying to wait till we were eighteen so
we could get forty cents an hour like the men. When we got to be eighteen, the men were
making twenty five cents an hour and that’s kind of sad.
FH: What year was it that you got to be eighteen?
PP; Eet’s see, I was bom 1914 - eighteen - 1 graduated from high school in 32. In August I
was eighteen. The first time I ever got kissed on the lips was from my favorite teacher. It
was kind of funny. I graduated on Thursday night. Friday we went back to school to get,
you know, our stuff out of our desks and everything. I was walking around the hall and -
I’m a very emotional person. I tear up easy and I saw her and thought I'm never going to
see her again. I said "Goodbye Miss Nielsen.” She said, "Well goodbye Perley” and she
leaned down. I thought she was going to kiss me on the cheek - but she kissed me on the
lips and I’ve liked her ever since. The only thing I regret is that I didn’t have courage or
guts enough to kiss her when I graduated from high school. But I didn't dare. She was a
very good teacher, I mean a very good teacher and excellent disciplinarian. Kids that I
see now when we have Old Settlers’ Day in Campbell- They all remember Miss Nielsen
because she kept good discipline.
[Tape 1 - Side 2 (B)]
PP; What I didn't know, she was moving over to high school the same year I was and I had
her four years later for U.S History. I remember, one time I was in her class and - I’m a
lousy speller - and I was sitting next to a girl who was a real apple-polisher with this
teacher. She became a teacher later herself, Eva Gerkovitz, we exchanged papers, it was a
quick twenty-five word test she pulled out of the air. I was watching what Eva was
marking right or wrong. She marked one wrong and I whispered to her, “That’s not
wrong. That’s right.” And Miss Nielson said "What’s the matter Perley.” and I said “Well
Eva marked one of my answers incorrect and I think it’s correct.” So she came over and
looked and said "No, that’s right, Eva, Perley never did learn how to spell.” The whole
class broke up laughing.
But I’ll tell you something interesting about her, too. You know, I was a Boy Scout once
and I kind of believed in the Boy Scout things, you know. So I wanted to get out of high
school so bad, because my dad needed the help, that I —
FH: Your dad needed help at what?
PP: Einances. Eike I say, he was making thirty five or forty cents an hour with six kids and
FH: His work at that time was?
PP; Well, he did orchard work, grafted trees, pruned, and worked on the ranch, all the things
that had to be done.
FH: Like today’s farm labor?
PP; Yeah. He worked for his brothers. They still had the Payne Purchase on Payne Avenue. I
uh ... I lost my train of thought there for a minute. Oh yeah, I know what I was going to
say, I got sick and you had to pass the final examination to graduate. I got sick and I had
to make it up and she was good enough to, and there was another girl who missed the
final exam, too, and so she stayed on her time after school and left the twenty five
questions on the board in her room. She said, “When you finish taking the test put the
papers in my desk and I’ll see you Monday. And she took off. The school yard was
gravel and you could hear her car on the gravel, but as soon as she hit Campbell Avenue.
The high school was on the comer of Campbell and Winchester in those days. As soon as
she hit Campbell Avenue - on the pavement you didn’t hear the tires anymore. And no
sooner then she got off the school grounds another girl came in. She said, “You want me
to help you two?” I said "”no.” “What’s the matter, you think you’re too good?” And I
said “No I don’t think I’m too good, but if I got an A, Miss Nielsen would know damn
well I cheated. I’ll probably get a B anyway - Which I usually did. And you know, my
estimation, or my respect for those two gals went down to zero practically because I
wouldn’t have cheated on Miss Nielsen then if I knew I was going to flunk. She tmsted
me and I would not break that tmst.
Anyway, I got a “B,” graduated, started working with my dad, working in the orchards,
irrigating, learned how to pmne, and whatever I could find in those days.
FH: You said you were a Boy Scout and believed in the Boy Scout things. Did you have
any particular religious activity in the family?
PP; I never knew my dad to go to church except when one of the kids were in a play or
FH: What church did he not go to?
PP; All of them. No, mother belonged to the Congregational Chureh and she would go.
But when we got real poor she didn’t have any good dresses so she didn’t go anymore.
FH: About when did you get real poor - when he lost the business?
PP; Yeah, when he lost the business in 1917. He made a living but I remember having white
bread with gravy and chipped beef on it for supper. I hate chipped beef to this day, but
that’s all we had sometimes. My mother did the best she could. She was a very good
person. She was a wonderful momma. Things got rough right away for him. Then when
he came home, he started working for his brothers and grafting trees in the spring all
around, because he knew how to graft trees and not many people did. Then he would go
to Stockton. Now Anderson Bam Brover, which became Food Machinery.
FH: Anderson what?
PP: Bam Brover — I don’t know how to spell that. They owned what is now Food
Machinery and old man Anderson bought all of his sons, except for one who’s a
superintendent over them, bought them ranches up over in the San Joaquin Valley, near
Linden. Barney, the oldest son, had the largest walnut orchard in the world - maybe-
anyway, the largest in California. You know, a section is 640 acres and he had that whole
thing with walnuts. There was a twenty acre piece that was out of it. It belonged to some
guy when they bought it. It was a little farm. There were three little farms that cut in on
the property, ten acres or something like that. It was a huge farm and dad would go up
there every spring. That was the only time he made any money. Most of the time, as I
say, he was making 35 or 40 cents an hour. Up there, he made a dollar an hour and he'd
send mom home money from up there. Then, when I got out of high school in 1932, 1
went with him the next May, no, the next March, 1933, 34, 35, 36, 37, 1 went with him.
The first two years I got five dollars an hour — I mean five dollars a day and then, after
that I got eight dollars a day, same as my dad. And the poor guys working there —
FH: Eight dollars a day. That’s forty dollars a week in 1937,
PP; We worked six days a week. I never told the guys working there how much I made
because I knew they were getting a dollar a day and board, room and board, and I didn’t
want to make them feel bad. That’s why I kept my mouth shut.
FH: How come you making such big money?
PP: I knew how to graft trees.
FH: And grafting was a very key specialty?
PP: It’s a technique that not many people ever learn. They had planted the whole thing [to]
black walnuts and they use black walnuts for the root stock and graft English walnuts on
it. They had several people grafting, but there was one other guy who came back the
second year- and my dad. The other guy maybe got 35% stand. My dad was getting 85%-
95% of the scions he put in were growing. And he taught me that when I was fourteen
years old. He taught me how to graft. . .
FH: Can you describe what that really means -to graft? What is the process?
PP: Yeah. Well what you do is, you saw a limb off, you know, where you want to change the
variety. You don’t want one that are too big because it takes too long to heal over. You
get a scion, which is a piece of the previous year's growth. You don't want older wood.
You want new wood. It has to be the previous season's growth. Then you split the limb -
there’s a balk graft tool you can do- but you either split the limb and - My dad learned
how make what you call a cut-out. Most guys just tapered the scion and put it in, but
being as wide as the scion, you'd have crack about yea wide, maybe an eighth of an inch
or better. So it was open, and maybe insects or fungus or something will start in there and
stuff. So my dad’s malting this cut-out, and then you have to shave the scion down to fit
the cut-out. Then when you take your wedge out - that you put in to keep it open while
you’re doing your grafting - you took it out and it held the scion in there. It wouldn’t be
much of a graft if it split when you got through. And that as an advantage. Bark grafting
is, you just saw the limb off, sharpen the scion on one side only, you know, make it plain,
then taper it down. And you can only do it when the bark is slipping, in the springtime
when the tree is growing vigorously, the camen layer slips. I mean, you can pull the bark
loose a little bit and put the scion behind it, then you put nails m there.
FH: What kind of nails?
PP: My dad never approved of that. Small, little inch long nails.
FH: Steel nails?
PP: Regular nails. The tree dissolves them, I guess, eventually.
FH: And that would hold the bark back against the scion.
PP: Exactly. You catch on fast. Anyway, I have to laugh. I learned the bark graft from my
boss when I went to work for the University of California and I’d bark graft a big black
walnut tree. I had to go way up because the limbs were too big, too big to cut, it never
heals over. It just takes too long. Anyway, so I put some bark grafts in, as well as top
grafts. And I was telling my dad about it. He said, “Oh the bark grafts will come loose.
This is only a year old bark graft. I chinned myself on it. He was just amazed. He thought
it would let loose. But, see, as good as he was, he still didn’t completely understand the -
what would you call it? —the make-up of the tree, in a way. The thing you had to do with
the camen layer, which is between the bark and the wood. And that grows a tree ring
around the limb and also grows some extra bark on the outside. So it’s doing two things
at once. And he didn’t understand - what would you call it - the physiology of it,
completely. But he was very good at it anyway.
Getting baek to growing up in Stockton. When I got out of high sehool I went with my
dad and that was one of the biggest educations I got, because these guys that worked
there were what you used to eall bindlestiffs. In other words, they went from job to job
with their roll of blankets on their baek and what little possessions they had, and they
would winter in Stoekton. And they’d all be in eheap hotels in Stockton during the winter
time when them was no work. Then, as soon as there was work, they’d all spread out and
go out to the farms and everything. I’ll never forget something that happened up there.
They had a strike and - I think it was where they pieked peas or some damn thing - and
they tried to break the strike. And the guys living in the hotel there, they wouldn’t go out
and scab. And so. . .they tried to get them to go out and do that and they wouldn’t do it.
FH: Why wouldn’t they?
PP: Beeause they didn’t want to go against the working people who were pieking peas - or
whatever it was. I think it was peas. Now I’m not sure I kind of forget. After all, it’s over
sixty years ago. Anyway, these guys I met on the ranch were guys who had done
everything. There were guys who worked in the logging woods. There were guys that
mined. There were guys who had worked at almost anything you can mention, these guys
had done. They had names like Hamroek Slim, Shorty and things like that. I’ll never
forget. Shorty and I got to be pretty friendly. So one night — I had a Model T Ford and I
could pack three guys sitting in the back seat, two or three guys sitting on their laps and
one guy hanging on the running board, two in front, and I’d take them to town and park
behind the hotel, the Linden Hotel, I think it was called. And I told them, “I’m leaving at
eleven o’cloek, if you guys are here you get a ride. Otherwise you’ll have to take the bus
or walk out to Linden.
FH: How come you had a car?
PP; Oh, I was just lucky enough. I bought a Model T for [twenty-five] dollars.
Anyway, Shorty and I were walking back and he pretty near stumbled over one of these -
We used to have these penny seales on the sidewalk. You put a penny in and you got
your weight and your fortune. He pretty near stumbled over that and I reached out to grab
him. He said, “No, no, kid I can take cam of myself even if I am half drunk.” So we
walked along and all of a sudden he said, he turned around to me, he said, “Kid, you
know the guys all like you.” I said, “Gee, I’m glad. Why do you say that?” He said,
“Well you’re not like most American kids.” I said, "What do you mean?” He said, "you
don’t make fun of us because we speak broken. Most Ameriean kids will make fun of
us.” I said, "Well, gee, if I went to your country, whatever country you came from. I’d
have a hell of a time with the language.” He said, “Yeah, that’s true but most kids don't
think of it that way.” And so —
FH: Why did you think of it that way? Why were you different?
PP: Well, I don’t know. I’ve had a different approaeh to a lot of things all my life. I knew a
couple of guys who were socialists, the blacksmith in Campbell was an old Australian
socialist. And - you know where Murray’s Bar is on Bascom Avenue? It’s pretty near
down to the County Hospital. Well Murray was the blacksmith's son and he and I were
friends. I went to school with him. Anyway, I knew these guys and I’d listen to them and
I started reading a lot. There was a guy named Dick Linden. I don't know if you ever
heard of him or not but Dick linden was the son of a guy that had a pretty good size
business in San Francisco. He lived in Campbell but he had a - well, he sold produce -
but there’s a name for it but I can’t think of it. Dick was going to Stanford and Dick was
an innocent guy. I think he became a Communist and I heard him talk a lot of times and
we talked. But Dick always regretted the fact that he wasn’t born of the working class
which to me was stupid. You’re bom wherever you and you make the most of it. But he
went to San Francisco afterwards and was in the warehouse union and he and Archie
Brown were good friends. As a matter of fact, he married, Hon Brown’s sister - Dick did.
FH: I’ve met him, for sure.
PP: He died young. He drank too much and I think he killed himself off drinking.
FH: What year?
PP: I don’t know. He was up in San Francisco. He was still alive when I went to Spain. But I
think he was dead when I came back.
FH: Then I didn’t meet him, I knew the Browns later on.
PP: Anyway, those guys on the ranch, as I say, had done most every damn thing. They would
tell me stories about. . .
FH: Let’s stop with Murray and Dick Linden and the people in CamphelL We’re trying
to find out how come you listened to the people and respected them,
PP: Well, just my nature. I don’t know. I used to go to Sunday school a little bit.
FH: What Sunday school - Congregational?
PP: If the prettiest girls went to Congregational, I went there. If they were Methodist, I went
FH: Highly religious person,
PP: Highly religious. But anyhow, my best friend was a Methodist minister’s son, a guy by
the name of Farr, Kenny Farr. He was - 1 don’t know if he’s still alive or not - he became
a Methodist minister like his dad. And so did his brother. But anyhow. What were you
asking me now?
FH: I was asking you how you got to appreciate the hindlestiffs and what drew you
toward them. You were telling me about the Australian socialists in Murray’s Bar,
PP; Murray’s father was a blacksmith in Campbell, and then Murray was his son and he
started a bar afterwards. I don’t know, I’ve always been a people person. I like people
and I make friends easy and — I know - we have a woman friend of my wife that we grew
up. We went out with her one time. We were eating in a restaurant and the waitress was
blocking so I couldn’t get passed. She was serving somebody and I started talking to the
people. When we got back to the table, Ruth said to me, she said, “Oh, you met some old
friends?” I said, “No, I never met them before.” "How can you talk to stranger like that?”
All I have to do is open my mouth. You know. I’ve always been that way. I talk to people
now in the checkout station in the store and I know all the people in the store that work
there. I just, I like people and so I think that’s it. My mother was friendly. My dad was
not unfriendly, but he wasn’t quite as friendly to people like mother was. Anyway, that’s
the way I grew up and these guys on the ranch I know, the year we left, the last year we
were up there, there were about 20 - 25 guys working on the ranch and they all shook
hands with me when I left. They didn’t shake hands with my dad. They didn’t dislike my
dad, but he was more reserved, you know. Shorty told me they all liked me, so, I was
FH: Did your father have auy supervisory capacity over these other guys?
PP : No , he just grafted trees .
FH: As you did. Did you do as well at graftiug trees as your father after a while?
PP: Just about. Yeah, he taught me well.
FH: Why did they start with the hlack waluuts aud theu go to Euglish,
PP: Well, the black walnut makes a better root stock than the English walnut does. It’s a
stronger root stock. And you see the size of some of these Black walnuts around - some
of them get really big. But they are strong so they make good root stock. They may have
been resistant to some diseases but as far as oak wood fungus is concerned — the thing
that gets most of our trees in California - they were not resistant to that.
FH: When you’d make a graft, would you pack the graft with any kind of clay or
anything to keep the hugs out?
PP: With grafting wax, black grafting wax.
FH: And that would fill in the cracks?
PP: Yeah. We’d just paint over the cracks. That would bridge the cracks. Then when they
started to grow, they'd have to knit before they would grow the bud. We usually left two
buds first. I’ll show you out there when you go. I just grafted a piece. Anyway, it’s a
means of - Well, when I got up there my dad had been grafting there for nineteen years
alone. When I got up there, we were re-grafting. We were grafting into English walnut.
So, call it a sandwich, whatever you want, but it was anywhere from a foot, a foot and
half to two or three feet above the black walnut, where we were grafting into because
they changed varieties, because the one variety they had grafted — they wanted to have
different varieties so they wouldn’t all come out at the same time. They had put this one
variety in called a Mayette that didn't prove out very well. It opened up so that the end of
it when they would - see, walnuts are all bleached. That’s what gives them that clean
looking color and when the Mayettes went through the bleach, the bleach would get into
where the meat is. So they changed varieties back. I think we were grafting back to
Payne, Payne walnuts.
FH: Payne Walnuts?
PP: Yes, named after my uncle George. He worked for Luther Burbank up in North Bay, yeah
up in Santa Rosa. He had a nursery up there. My uncle went up there to bud for him
every year. I know one year he couldn’t go and I saw the letter that Luther Burbank wrote
back to him. I hope I have it. I may have it someplace. I’m not sure. Anyway, he wrote
George and said, “It give[s] me a pain (Payne) that you can’t come up and bud for me.”
FH: Didn’t Burbank come down here. Wasn’t he working around Burbank here?
PP; No, not that I know of.
FH: Was that named after Luther Burbank?
PP: I don’t know that. You could probably find out from the historians in San Jose. But
anyway, my uncle went up there and did the budding for him. Then I learned how to bud
FH: How to bud? What is budding?
PP: Same as grafting except when you bud, you bud into one year old wood - or maybe two
year old. But you get your bud off of the wood that grew the previous year. It has to be
the previous year's growth. To demonstrate, you just make a little tee cut in the bark and
insert the bud in that tee cut behind the two parts on the side and then you put a rubber
band around, it’s treated so that it rots eventually. It doesn’t stay there too long. It’s easy.
All the nurseries talking about it. You couldn’t buy a tree to plant in your yard, if it’s a
fruit tree, unless it’s been budded in the nursery.
FH: Did your parents get along well? Did they have any political discussions?
PP: My dad was kind of a half-ass Republican, but voted for Roosevelt a couple of times.
My mother, I guess she was a Republiean too, from her baekground, from her folks I
beeame a Democrat early on when Roosevelt ran.
FH: What made them Republicans?
PP: Well, just the way they were raised and everything in the early days. Their folks were
FH: Did any of that perhaps come out of McClellan? Were they -
PP: I don’t know that they were politically oriented at all.
FH: Did your father get involved in any community activities?
PP: No. You see, after he lost his cannery, he kind of felt he was disgraced. And I felt, and
my wife too, we really felt bad about it, because, he kind of lived on his knees the rest of
his life. He depended on his brothers and his sisters when he wasn’t - like one time I
remember, we didn’t work for about two or three months it rained so much here that he
had to ask them for money all the time to keep us going, you know. I remember he used
to charge groceries at Field’s Store in Campbell and I was working and I would take my
check to Field’s Store and cash it and pay so much to Fields on dad’s bill and take some
down to the gas station and Fred, I forget his last name, anyway, the guy who owned the
gas station - He had a charge there, and I’m pay him, too. And I had, outside of the sorry
part here, my aunt and uncle, my uncle George and my aunt Aileen — after my uncle
George had died, my aunt Aileen told me, "You know George and I were figuring on
sending you to college, but we figured you were too irresponsible. And here I was taking
all my money that I earned for five years — all of it went home, except for what I did
spend to buy that Model T Ford. All of it went home to help my mother and dad with the
grocery bills and whatever else they needed. The only thing I kept out was for a haircut
and a little bit to go to a show once in a while, something like that. Most of it went home
to help my folks. I don’t know how I could be more responsible, but they didn’t know
about that. And the fact that by then I was getting interested in the unions. And the fact
that I helped pass out leaflets for the cannery union and stuff like that. They heard about
it right away and got all upset.
FH: George and Aileen, they didn’t like unions?
PP: No. None of my relatives did. My dad was kind of ambivalent about it, but I kinda got
interested in it because I read. I used to read a lot. I still like to read but I fall asleep now,
in my old age, when I read too much. I try to read a little bit every day. I have something
here. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but Time magazine put out a special just recently
about Welfare for corporations, and it’s really interesting because it shows all these
bastards, how much money they get from our government. We have people out there
hollering about the people on Welfare - the amount of money that we give big
corporations just overwhelms, overshadows what people get on Welfare.
FH: What are the kinds of things your read when you were?
PP: Oh, I used to read a lot of eowboy stories beeause my neighbor took Westerns and I
borrowed from him. As I got older I started reading politieal books — Days of our Years -
FH: About what year? We’re talking about the early thirties, I believe,
PP; Yeah, I started reading some then and then when I eome baek from Spain then I —
FH: Before you get to Spain, When you were in high school, you must have started your
PP: Yeah, but I read more of westerns and adventure stories. When I graduated from
grammar sehool my doetor gave me a book about the, the guy that went to the North
Pole, not Perry, but another guy.
PP; I guess. He had a Blaek man who went. No, I guess Perry is the one who had a
Blaek guy who went with him and never got the eredit for going up there that he should
have. I read books like that. I liked adventure books, about people who had done things.
Then I got hold of a book and I wished to heek I knew what happened to it "The History
of the Ameriean Working Class" by Anthony Bimba. I had it and it disappeared. I don't
know what happened to it. I think I read that after I eame home from Spain.
FH: I've got a copy of that.
PP; Have you?
FH: Did you read any Jack London?
PP: Yeah. I read Jaek London.
FH: Who was your favorite author when you were in high school and a little after that?
PP; I don't remember if I had a favorite author, I read. . .I’ll tell you something funny. Who's
the guy who wrote about Spain — Hemingway. I didn't know who Hemingway was when
I was in Spain and I went into a saloon onee and he was there watehing them bandage a
guy who had lost his right arm - E.L. Stewart. Someone said “Hemingway's in there.” I
said, "Who’s he?’ I really wasn't that wise yet, you know. Anyway, I read a lot and I
think I read some books about labor, too, about some of the big strikes that went on. I
remember reading about, in some book, about the faet that they took some of the eoal
miners, Colorado I think it was, they took’em down the desert in Arizona without any
shade or anything, men, women, and kids, and left them there for a while. Just like a
eoneentration eamp. What was the book I read about that? What was the name of it?
Anyway, I read about people on strike in the mines and stuff. A lady I knew, Elizabeth
[Nicolas], she's dead now, but her dad was a stiff-necked Yugoslav and he refused to kiss
the rear ends of the mine owners or the foremen and he was blackballed a lot and he
finally went up Mountain View and bought ten acres of land. But anyway.
[End Tape 1]
[Begin Tape 2 - Side 1 (A)]
It kind of amazes me sometimes, and so I get discouraged as how little the average
American has any idea of what the struggles we’re talking about are. Although you find
people whose family have gone through these things, people who’ve emigrated from
Europe and came here to work in the steel mills and stuff like that, their grandfather
worked in a steel mill or something so they know a little bit about the struggle, but
they’re not - well, they don’t want to join the union for example because they have to pay
dues or something and stuff like that. I ran into that when I was shop steward for the
Machinists Union, at Eood Machinery.
FH: You were talking about Elizabeth Nicholas and her father was the guy who came
out of that strike in -
PP; I believe. He came out of some of the strikes in the mining. I don’t know which one for
FH: It might have been the Bisbee strike,
PP: It’s possible, right.
FH: You read about that?
FH: I don’t know where it came from. I think from my mother, but in high school even. You
asked how come I felt drawn to these foreign born guys and stuff, was nice to them and
all that. Well in high school I hated to see guys pick on some guy that wasn’t able to
defend himself. Maybe they wouldn’t hit him too much, but they’d make fun of him, and
trip him, and certain stuff, you know? And I hated to hear people make fun of women
who were fat or something. "Eook at that pig.” They’d say stuff like that in high school
and it always. . .1 thought to myself, she’d rather be a 36-24-36 if she could’ve been, but
she doesn’t have the build for it. You know, she’s maybe big-bodied, or she’s real skinny
or small. Everybody isn’t a perfect built person. Eike me, I got the smallest damn wrists
you ever saw. But I was able to work pretty hard all my life. I just, I don’t know, I
just Somebody told me I should have been a preacher, but I don’t see it from that
standpoint because, I guess I’m a, if not an atheist. I’m an agnostic at least. I’ve always
been sympathetic to the underdog. It’s something I picked up someplace.
FH: In high school here in Santa Clara county, did you?
PP: I went to Campbell Grammar Sehool and to Campbell High Sehool.
FH: I know there was a large Mexican population in Campbell.
PP: No, we had no Mexieans in high sehool at all - or grammar sehool. We had Italians,
Portuguese, Yugoslav, two Japanese, and that was about it. The rest of us were just uh,
FH: Did you find that any of those groups were discriminated against or favored in any
PP: When I ran into things later in life, diserimination and that, it always bothered me
beeause when I went to grammar sehool and high sehool, both, the kids all played
together and we never argued about religion or anything else - or even nationality. Some
kids would get mad if Italians ealled them “Wops,” or something or “Portagees” but very
seldom. Most of the time we got along fine.
FH: Was there any special discrimination or language used against the Japanese kids?
PP: No, because they all spoke English. You see, most of those Japanese kids who went to
school were born here. No problem. I remember, I was in an operetta when we graduated
high school and we had a Japanese kid who was playing the part of a Chinese cook. No, I
never saw or felt any discrimination against anybody in school that I can recall. I might if
I gave it more thought, but I don’t remember any. There were some kids, good athletes,
and they made fun of other people and stuff and that used to bother the hell out of me.
FH: Did you get into any arguments or?
PP: Oh, yes, sometimes. Never got in any fight. I got in a fight with a guy, but he and I were
good friends afterwards. He lived next door to me. I found out early in life that I'd rather
be a lover than a fighter.
FH: What were your favorite subjects in school?
PP: I loved history and geography. I was lousy in spelling and fair in English and in algebra
I did fairly well and geometry I did some, but I knew better than to try to take
FH: Did they have any classes in economy or agricultural pursuits?
PP: Yes, we did and the teacher was lousy. I’ll tell you something interesting. I've always
been able to talk, you know, and Mr. Yorford was our ag teacher, and going over to
class., we had to go across the schoolyard to a high school building that had been the
grammar school, but half of it burnt down. There were still a few rooms that we used
over there. The other kids would say, "Perley, get Mr. Yorford talking about something.
then he won’t have time to give us an exam. I’d ask him “How do you get rid of poison
oak, Mr. Yorford?” He’d go along about it and first thing you know, the period would be
half over. He’d realize he couldn’t give us an exam so then he’d tell us to read something
and that was the end of it. He was a very bad teacher.
FH: Well, how do you get rid of poison oak?
PP; You use 24D or 245D, or now you can use roundup.
FH; And how do you get rid of it once you’ve got it on your body?
PP: You just sweat it out. There’s stuff you can put on it to take some of the sting out. I was
lucky I never had it.
FH; That has nothing to do with anything. I guess we were talking about Stockton and these
guys you met. . .
PP: Yeah they went up and down the. ..Oh, I’ve got to tell you about one of those guys. We
went up and down the San Joaquin Valley wherever we could find work. There was one
guy that came to the ranch to work. A guy named George Hedmund and I took a liking to
him. He was a Swedish socialist, and he and I got to be good buddies. We’d go to town
on a Sunday and see a show or eat in a restaurant or something. He would tell me a lot
about his life and what happened. He was an interesting man. He had gone as a cabin boy
from Sweden, he went to England and got on this ship as a cabin boy and went to India.
The crew, three quarters of them died from cholera in India. I guess in Bombay or
something. They had to wait a whole year for another crew to come by sailing vessel to
pick up the ship. Some of them died from cholera when they got there, but there were
strong enough guys to, you know, raise the sails and all of that kind of stuff. They finally
got back to England. Then he came to the United States. He’d done a lot of things in the
United States. Now, talking about being different, like little Shorty told me, George and I,
when I left in the middle of May, I said, “Well I’ll see you next year” He said, "Well I
probably won’t be working here.” I said, "the first two Sundays of April I’ll be in front of
the library on the steps waiting for you.” A year later I was there and here comes George
FH; In Stockton
PP: Yeah. We spent the whole day together and I never saw him since. He was a wonderful
guy, humorous, intelligent, well-read, and he was just doing farm labor because that was
the only thing he can. He was telling me about making a bid on a barn one day and he
said he didn't know how much it was going to cost, but he walked around, looked at it,
and finally told the lady held do it for so much and she said okay. So he painted the barn.
But anyway, I met some interesting guys up there. You see, George is the guy I
remember the most.
FH: He, being a socialist, what did he — ?
PP: Well he told me how he thought the working people should own the means of produetion
and should benefit from it, instead of a few eapitalists — you know. And that influenced
me a lot. Then the last time I went up there was 1937 and when I came back I went up to
San Francisco and stayed up there until I finally went to Spain in '38.
FH: You stayed in San Francisco? [PP; With different people] That was three years after the
FH; Did you get involved in that strike at all?
PP: I knew what was going on. I knew who Harry Bridges was. I knew what he was trying to
do and how the farmers all hated him and so and so forth. The funny part of it is, he came
down to speak in San Jose and my dad went to hear him. My dad says, “You know, he
made a lot of sense.” He pointed out things like the reason the ship guys hated him so
much is that he knew how much they were making and everything. He was a very sharp
guy. Funny part is, he didn’t want to be a leader of the union or anything. He was just
another guy who came from Australia, you know, working, and he had some good ideas
and he got pushed, pushed, pushed. First thing you know, he was President or whatever
he was of the union for years.
FH: How did your socialist kind of thinking jive with your father? You say he was surprised
when he heard Bridges.
PP: Yeah. My dad was beaten down by the loss of his cannery. Well, we never actually
discussed very much - well a little bit at the supper table - but no too much. He was not
violently opposed to my ideas particularly. I mean, we never fought or anything. And I
respected my dad and my mother, both, God knows.
I went up to the city and stayed with my aunt for a while, then at Christmas time I worked
at one of the big stores. Hale Brothers.
FH : W as that a union j oh?
PP: Yeah, and I got to know the people there at the Retail Clerks Union. I knew about four or
five of them later. I got interested in the YCL (Young Communist League) then.
FH; How did you get interested in the YCL?
PP: I met some kids and, you know, they invited me to go and fill out an application. I guess I
... I belonged to the Communist Party at one time but I was never really a Communist. I
was intrigued by what they were trying to do in Russia and what the people wanted to do
here. I know the Communists were in the lead of all those strikes.... or most of them. They
were willing to put their bodies on the picket line, where other people weren’t all the
time. I had a lot of respect for them. Then I finally got interested and volunteered. My
aunt knew something was coming up because I went in to San Jose. My cousin was the
County Recorder here, Charley Payne, and I went in to get my passport. He said, “You
don’t want a stamped or anything?” I said, "Maybe I’ll be going someplace, if I get a job
aboard a ship or something. I finally got him to make it complete. So then it was
delivered by mail. I was living in San Francisco and she knew something was coming up.
Finally I told her, but I didn’t tell my folks until I sent them a letter from New York.
They probably got it three days after I was out to sea. My dad took a day off. He never
took a day off, but he took a day off and went up to San Francisco to speak to the Spanish
Consulate. The guy said, “I have no control. I don’t even know what’s going on. These
people go different routes, you know. Like, we went over the Pyrenees Mountains at
night, in a foot of snow with a pair of oxen. Some people - now I know a guy, his son
still lives in San Jose, and he went in on the train because he was still a citizen of Spain.
FH; Let’s go back a bit. We jumped. We made a jump.
PP; Yeah. I have tendency to do that.
FH; When you were working in San Francisco, did you get involved in any of the union
activity there, around the Retail Clerks?
PP: Yeah, I went to union meetings. But there wasn’t much going on then. There were no
strikes going on or anything. There was when I got back from Spain, by the way.
FH: Let’s hold that. Before you went to Spain you were back in Santa Clara County for a
while. You were busy with some of the cannery organizing.
PP: Oh, that was before, before I went to San Francisco.
FH; About what year?
PP; Oh, '33, ‘34, along in there, '35. 1 was president of the cannery workers for about six
FH: You were president of the cannery workers?
PP: When we started to organize the cannery workers it was just a few people.
FH; And this was about ‘33 or ‘34
PP; Maybe '35. 1 don’t know. I don’t know how come I got elected, but I did. I knew it was
just temporarily, until we got the thing organized. I never forgot, there was an old Italian
guy that came to the meetings and he said, "You know we have to be like the camel and
the Arab. So he told me the story about the camel. First he put his head in the tent and
then, little by little he kept coming in until he was all the way in the tent. He said, that’s
what we have to do. Well, we passed out leaflets. I passed out leaflets in my home town
of Campbell my neighbors wouldn’t speak to me because of that. Mr. Ainsley was
considered an unofficial sort of a guy that was kinda hard. He was a pretty good boss.
FH; Who was Ainsley?
PP: He owed the cannery.
FH; What was the name of the cannery?
PP: Ainsley Canning Company and Hyde Canning Company, and my dad’s was Orchard
City Canning, but he lost it. Jacobs owned it for a while and then the guy that took over
Ainsley’ s cannery bought what had been my dad's cannery and they cut off - actually
later, not while I was around, I think I was in Spain when they did it - they actually
closed the street that went across on one side of my folk’s house. They lived on the
comer. And Hopkins Street was cut off and they built right across it and built Laurel
Cannery including the old Orchard City Canning Company. That was included, there
were a lot more canneries there.
FH; So the company took over the city street.
PP; Yeah. It wasn’t a city then. Well, it was the City of Campbell, but it didn't have a mayor
or anything like that.
FH; When you were handing out leaflets in Campbell and got that reaction, were you doing it
at a street comer or going door to door or?
PP: No, it was right in front of the cannery when people came out from work. They had cop
out there and he would kinda give me a bad time. Not too much. I went to school with all
FH; Was it you, by yourself, passing out the leaflets? Didn’t have anybody else doing it with
PP: Not that I remember.
FH; Had you ever worked at that cannery?
FH; That’s where you were working?
PP: Not then. I wasn’t. They didn’t hire me because I was always talking about the union.
FH; But you knew most of the folk s ?
PP: Yeah, they were all my neighbors in Campbell, except for a bunch of people who came
out of Dos Palos every year to work there. Aimsley would have come out of —
FH; Dos Palos?
PP: Yeah, It’s over in the Valley.
FH: Was it South Dos Palos? Were they white people?
FH: Then it was Dos Palos.
PP: We didn’t have any Mexicans or any Blacks in Campbell at all that worked in the
cannery. Mostly it was Italians and Portuguese women that worked in the cannery. My
grandmother worked there. My mother worked in the cannery. My sisters all worked in
And then a guy named Esenbrook — Hyde went bankrupt. He also went bankrupt and a
guy named Esenbrook took over the Hyde family for a while. I worked for them and my
sisters worked there too. I talked about the union some, but there was no response. Most
people were just glad to have a job and they didn’t care about the union. That’s the
response you get from so many people.
FH: Well, it was 1934 and there were not too many jobs around.
PP: Yeah, that’s right. The reason I got a job from Esenbrook was that the superintendent was
a guy named Johnny - Johnny - Johnny - 1 can’t think of his last name right now. He had
- my dad had given him his first job he ever had in the cannery my dad had owned and
my dad saw Johnny and asked him to give me a job and he did. I worked there all of one
season, maybe two seasons. I forget now for sure. Two seasons, because I drove truck
one season and the other I worked inside the cannery.
FH: What work did you do inside?
PP: I was a checker. Made sure the women had trays of cans in front of them when they were
canning fruit. When they filled up the tray they’d pound on the table and I’d give them a
check and then take that and put it on the stand until the stand got full of trays of fruit.
Then they went over to the capper.
FH: Were they carried over or did they go on a beltline?
PP: On a truck, a little hand truck.
FH: And the cans were open?
PP: You’re thinking about the sanitary part of it.
FH; No, I imagine it would be sanitized by the cooking it would—
PP: Yeah, it would but when we stacked these trays on it was right on top of the can as I
recall. Maybe there was slots there, I can’t recall.
FH: r ve been in other canneries, modern tomato canneries where it’s all done on a beltline.
PP: Yeah. We made tomato ketchup one year. I remember that. After all the fruit was canned,
they opened up and made ketchup.
FH: Who was involved with the organizing? You must have gotten involved with an
organizing committee here. Who was on that committee — or how did that come about?
PP: Well actually the AFL was organizing some and the CIO was organizing some and we
got involved with the CIO. I was kind of naive. I remember talking to one guy who was
kind of a boss in the cannery and I was spilling my guts to him about what we were
trying to do because I thought he was a nice guy. I always take people at face value. I’m
not very suspicious. This friend of mine told me that’s a weakness. But be that as it may,
he knows exactly what we were doing there. I told him. I didn’t tell him any secrets, I just
told him we’re trying to organize the union. Of course, there was a lot of opposition.
FH: Where did the opposition come from?
PP: From the canneries. And from some people. Some people were very much against it. But
eventually, it was organized.
FH: Do you mean the workers were against it?
PP: Well you see, most of them were people who lived in Campbell, and they knew Mr.
Ainsley. They knew the man who owns it. They knew who he was and he had a
restaurant for them for lunch. He had a camp where people would come and stay from
Dos Palos and other parts of the Valley, they could come and stay during the summer. Of
course, us young guys were always down there looking for girlfriends, you know.
I worked for Ainsley and then I worked for Esenbrook. I couldn’t get a job for Ainsley
because I talked about unions so much. There was a lot of — There never was any trouble
in Campbell about the unions. I mean there was no fights or picket lines or anything.
They just signed the contract eventually from what I gather.
FH: They signed a contract with the CIO union?
PP: No, I think they signed with the AF of L to circumvent the CIO. They scared of the CIO
more than the AFL.
FH: Was AFL the Teamsters?
PP: No. It was - 1 don’t know what in heek they called them. They merged with the CIO later
as you know. I don’t know what the heck they were called.
FH: And the organizing committee, did that come together from among the workers?
PP: Yeah, in San Jose there were some people who were very strong. One of them was
Luke Hindman. Did you know him? He was a scout in Spain. Luke was active in the
committee. He was also organizer for the Communist Party for Santa Clara County. The
Communist Party had a big hand in it. There were also a lot of other people too, and a lot
of them didn’t know that he was a Communist. I mean, he didn’t go around blabbing
about it, you know. What people don’t realize, in my estimation, looking back on it all, is
that the thing the Communists did was trying to help people. And, of course, they always
think right away they want a revolution or something. That might have been their
ultimate aim when it came down to it if things got bad enough. Actually, they were flying
to help on day to day events. They fought like hell for Social Security and for all those
type of programs.
FH: This same organizing committee for the canneries - you say that was not just
Communists? It was a lot of other people.
FH: How many people were in the organizing committee?
PP: I don’t remember really. I kind of was out of it then because I went to San Francisco.
It went on after I left. Some very conservative people got to be business agents and stuff
like that, in the union. I met one guy I hadn’t seen for years and he was a Cannery
Workers Agent for years
FH: Who was that?
PP: I forgot the name. He lived on Payne Avenue. He was a neighbor of my folks. I can’t
think of his name.
FH: I ran into a number of those people in the early seventies and they’d been there forever.
PP: Real “piecard” artists.
FH: It became a difficult union for the workers. But in the earlier times - did they organize by
- you were handing out leaflets. Did you visit people in their homes?
PP: Most activity went on in San Jose and I wasn’t involved in it. They even had a strike, in
San Jose. I don't know if the cannery union and the warehouse union were the same or
not. The warehouses were all organized, I think they were separate.
FH; From the sixties and probably through the fifties, the dried fruit industry was ILWU,
FH: Elizabeth Nieholas was one of the people involved in that eommittee.
PP: I assume so, I don't know for sure. She was very aetive in Sunnyvale. Matter of faet, she
went to jail onee. She was just a young woman then. She said she eried when she was in
jail. The Sheriff or the Chief of Poliee up there was real sympathetie to her, not to the
idea of the union, but he just thought she was a niee young lady who was misled. So he
was real good to her.
FH: That ean make things a lot more eomfortable in jail.
FH: The way you speak about your involvement in Campbell, other things were happening
over in San Jose and Elizabeth was more aetive up in Sunnyvale - well today it's all one
PP: Yeah. That’s what’s happening. Our whole Valley’s all one big eity now. I remember
when there were orehards between all the different plaees. I used to sell spray material
for Sherwin-Williams before they went out of the spray material business. There were
hundreds of farmers trying to sell it. I sold some, but I didn't do too well. I’m not enough
of a pusher, I guess.
FH: After you were done with organizing of eanneries here - well, before we leave that - you
say the people, your neighbors, didn’t look too kindly on your activities, putting out the
leaflets, and you ran into some conflict. Did you have some arguments around that?
PP: No, they just wouldn't talk to me and behind my back, they called me the Eocal Red or
something like that because - not because they knew I had anything to do with the
Communist Party or anything like that. But they knew I was with the union. To them, that
was Red activity. They were conservative, older people, a lot of them. They’ve lived in
Campbell all their lives and considered Mr. Ainsley a neighbor. I lived on Alice Avenue
and Ainsley lived on my street, Harrison Avenue for a while. Then they bought that home
on the comer of Hamilton and Bascom and now it’s moved into Campbell. It's preserved
as a museum now, right by the library. The Ainsley House. [FH: Oh, I’ll have to go visit
that sometime] It’s interesting because it’s built in English style. The edge of that, where
it would be the eaves, is rolled. It has roll to the shingle.
FH: We were just about up to where you were getting your passport. What determined you to
get a passport and what year was this now?
PP: I got a passport in '37 and left for Spain in ’38. February of ‘38.
FH; What drew you to the whole issue of the Spanish Civil War?
PP: I read some about it and then they had meetings for support for Spain in San Francisco,
big meetings and I went, and some guys who had already been there were back home by
then. A lot of Americans were over there in ‘37. Some of them were wounded and came
back and would speak around, raising funds for support and trying to get our government
to lift the Embargo. So they had these big meetings and I would go and I was interested. I
had left home and was helping to support my family but my sisters were getting out of
school. One sister went to college. Other two sisters worked in a packinghouse and a
cannery in the summertime. So they were able to help out, and little by little, they were
getting married of, so there wasn’t so much burden on my dad then to support them. So I
felt footloose am fancy free so I decided to go.
FH: Your mother was still alive?
PP: Oh yeah, I still have letters someplace in this house —
[Tape 2 - Side 2 (B)]
[Audio recording unavailable, only transcript available]
PP: (continued) that I wrote home to my parents and my family. They’re in the house here,
but I doubt if I could find them if I wanted to. One of the interesting things, I got a letter
from my grandmother. I never realized how political she was. You know, I wasn’t around
her a lot. She was my mother’s mother. She lived in Campbell. She knew a lot about what
was going on. It surprised me. I got a real nice letter from her. I got letters from my folks
and so on.
FH: In what way was your grandmother political?
PP: She knew what was going on in Spain. She knew what was going on in the United
States, with Congress and all this kind of stuff - much to my surprise. I’d never talked
politics with her. You see, I was only 24 when I went to Spain. I’ll tell you about my
birthday afterward. At that age you don’t talk to your grandparents very much about their
lives or anything very much. You don’t care. You’re interested in sports and girls and all
that kind of stuff But she was a feisty gal and she was a women’s libber long before
women’s lib was known. She was the matron of Kmeamea School in Honolulu for
Hawaiian kids - the famous school they have over them. She was there for many years
and came back in - I don’t know - in ’26 or ’27.
FH: Was your grandfather there, too?
PP: No. They were separated a long time before that.
FH: That in itself was a new thing — for people to be separated.
PP: (garbled) she was separated already. She was separated when she went to Honolulu. She
went to Honolulu about 1917— beeause one of my aunts who I never got to know - 1
don’t know if I ever even saw her. She went over there - two of my aunts went over there
and graduated from what they call “Normal School,” which was teachers’ college. They
went over there to teach and my aunt Ruth died over there from the flu. Anyway, my
grandmother went over there and got this job as Matron for the Kameamea School.
Okay, now, going to Spain - unless you want something else.
FH: How did you get recruited to go to Spain?
PP; You want to know the deep, dark secrets?
FH; Every secret there may be.
PP; I knew they were recruiting for Spain and I asked.
FH; Who is they?
PP; A committee, mostly the Communist Party. I asked at - what was it — 121 Eighth
Street, the Party’s headquarters in San Erancisco. They told me I had to meet a certain
guy down on the waterfront, by a certain telephone poll, and talk to him. So another guy
and I went down there to talk to him and... They did a lot to discourage you from going.
They didn’t make it sound like it was fun and games at all. You know, if you were
captured by the fascists there was a lot of torture they know how to do, the least of which,
they put your fingers in a door and close the door — smash your fingers. That’s just one
of what they do. They do a lot of other stuff. But, you know, when you’re that young, you
feel invincible. I wanted to go and they accepted me. That’s when I had to get my—
FH; You met that guy under certain light post down on the Embarcadero — who was that guy?
PP; I’d seen him before. I think he was a longshore official, if I’m not mistaken. I could be
wrong. I’d seen him around a little bit After all, Ered, this sixty some odd years ago.
To change the subject a little bit, did I tell you about that picture of me in the Examiner?
Did you get one of those?
PP; I’ll give you one — a picture of me with a speaker. This guy saw that in the Examiner.
He phoned the Examiner because he didn’t know me from Adam Pearl Pox and they told
him to get in touch with the guy who took the picture and he did. Then he gave this guy
my phone number. They gave me this guts phone number. They didn’t give him my
phone number, because he didn’t know it. But, anyway, he gave that guy who phoned in
- his phone number. I phoned him. I already knew what his name was. It was Jim Sanjoul
(FH). He used to be active in the labor movement around San Francisco. Then he got into
building or something. But, anyway, I phoned him and said, "Is this Jim Sanjoul?” He
said, "Yeah.” I said," This is Perley!” “My god” he said, “It’s been 61 years sinee I heard
your voiee last.” Sixty one years! That’s more than most people live, you know. He was a
nice guy. I lived with him - him and his wife - for the last week before I went to Spain.
He said "Didn’t I give you a leather jacket before you left?” I said, “No. You gave me a
wonderful hand knit green sweater that I wore in Spain for a long time.” I think I lost it
eventually, going through a lot of crap. So anyway, we had quite a talk. He’s gonna come
to San Jose someday. He’s gonna phone me and we’ll get together.
FH; He was the guy on the street corner?
PP: No, no. He was the guy I stayed with in San Francisco before I went.
FH; I see.
PP; I lived in his house with him and his wife. Then he divorced her. And he told me on the
phone the other day that he was married four times. The last time it took — He’s been
married twenty some odd years to the same gal. But his wife married a guy who was very
active in the Central Labor Council here. I can’t think of his name. I didn't know him.
Anyway, she was around here for a while. I ran into her a couple of times.
FH; Do you know what her name was?
PP; I can’t remember. Anyway, then we were given tickets on an outlaw bus line. It, you
know, just took people east for about half the price that Greyhound would charge. And I
stayed in Philadelphia.
FH; Was there a group of you that went?
FH; From San Francisco or from Santa. Clara County?
PP; We picked up some from L. A., too. There were about three of us from San Francisco -
or four and we picked up a guy or two in L.A., en route.
FH; How many left from Santa Clara County?
PP; Well, there was a couple of guys — one, two — there was three or four from Santa Clara
County. They’ve all dropped out of sight. I don’t know what happened to them.
FH; They all went with you?
PP; No, some of them were there already. The guys I went with were from San Francisco or
L.A. We went across country.
FH: Who recruited you to go to the Eighth Street headquarters and get the clue to go and meet
the guy down by the Embarcadero to talk about?
PP; Well, you know, I was around with a lot of young guys who were interested and someone
just told me to go to 121 Haight Street.
PP: So I went there and talked to a gal whose family was very wealthy. They were big paper
owners back East, but she'd become a Communist — in college, I guess.
FH: Do you remember her name?
PP: Yeah, I’m trying to think of it. Betty — I can't think of it.
FH: She's still around I think.
PP: She’s probably dead by now. She's older than I am and I’m 84 and a half She was a very
smart gal, smoked all the time though. Anyway, we got to Philadelphia and I stopped to
visit my sister.
FH: In this bus, was it all people going to Spain or just a handful of them?
PP: Whoever they could pick up. They had like offices, but they didn't the setup like
Greyhound bad. I know there was a Black gal with us. I don't know where she got on. I
don’t remember. But I do remember the bus driver wanted to dance with her when we
stopped at one place to eat that had a dance band. She was the first Black person that I
ever saw that couldn’t dance. She couldn’t dance at all. Then we got to New York and
stayed in a hotel there and had physical there.
FH: In a hotel? How did you get a physical? Did they have doctors?
PP: They had a doctor who came to the hotel and we — I think it was in the hotel where we
had the physical.
FH: How many people were there for the physical?
PP: Oh, I don’t know, forty or fifty I guess — thirty anyway. There was one guy there who
was a really good looking guy, reminded me of Elrol Flynn. The doctor told him to drop
his trouser. So he dropped them about just above his kme and held them there.. He said,
"Drop your trousers.” The guy let them go down a couple more inches. He said, "Drop
your trousers.” He dropped them and he didn’t have any muscle on the calf of his leg. It
had been shot off. At sixteen years old he volunteered for the Canadian Air Force and
made it. So he was in the Air force, but he was going to be a foot soldier. They wouldn’t
take him because all the muscle had been shot away in his leg. He hardly limped. He
learned to walk so he hardly limped. I didn’t know he had anything wrong with him, I got
to know him a little bit, hanging around the hotel.
FH; What hotel'? Do you remember the name?
PP: No, I don’t. And then we went aboard the S.S. Forston. They told us not to gang up too
mueh so people would look obvious. Hell, everybody on the ship, within a day or two,
knew we were going to Spain.
I got a ehanee to walk around with the watehman. I’d never been aboard a ship before. I
got to see the different parts of the ship. I know the erew was in the front of the ship. I
remember the walls were sweating. I don’t think it was a very healthy plaee to be.
Anyway, then we met an Irish gal and her mother and her sister there and we got to be
very friendly you know, we walked a lot.
FH; Were they going to Spain too?
PP: No, they were going baek to Ireland. All the guys were jealous beeause she was hanging
around with me all the time. Good looking, gal. She got off at Ireland. Then we went to
England, and from England, to Ee Havre, Eranee. This Ameriean guy met us there. He
was organizing the transportation.
FH; Do you remember who that was?
PP; No, I don’t. A very veil edueated Ameriean guy. We got on the train and they told us not
to be too loud or anything. I met Tom Flaherty. They ealled him O’Flaherty. Have you
read the book ealled “Comrader?” Harry Fisher wrote it. It’s a good book. If you like. I’ll
loan it to you. He ealled him Tom O’Flaherty, but it’s aetually Tom Flaherty. My son’s
named - middle named - after him. I’ve talked to his brother and I’ve tried to eontaet his
brother reeently. I don’t know what happened to him. We had another physieal there.
There was one guy there who had been in some kind of ruekus in one of the Fatin
Ameriean eountries, but he was a very irresponsible guy. He got a prostitute up in his
room and she had another appointment and he wouldn’t let her out of the room. She was
raising hell and made a lot of noise. They sent him baek. I remember when he got baek -
and he didn’t know how to spell her name, but he reported to the papers that a lot of the
young people who were going to Spain were being duped to go to Spain. They didn’t
know what they were getting into and so on and so forth. He was just pissed off beeause
he got sent home.
From there, we went to a little town. I ean’t remember the name of it — about ten miles
from the Pyrenees Mountains. We stayed there in the loft of a big building. The town was
very left wing. As a matter of faet, there were hammer and siekles made out of hedge
plants. Tittle bit of a town. We stayed them a eouple of days and then one night they had
us get in a eouple of buses - three or four buses with all the guys. We went - and some of
the Freneh poliee were trying to keep us from going. What we did, as soon as they went
towards the Pyrenees Mountains — like most roads going near mountains - you know, the
road was down and up and down. When we went into one of the downs, we all piled out
as fast as we eould and ran off in a vineyard and then the bus kept going. . The guys that
eame following had to think we were all still in the bus. All the guys got there and we
were taken to a farmhouse. We had to walk a quarter mile to the farm house and we were
given hot food and bread before we left. I understand that the guys who led us into Spain
were all poachers -not poachers, but smugglers. They knew the Pyrenees Mountains like
most of us know our backyards. So they led us over the Pyrenees. And we walked. It was
February and got dark about five o’clock. And we walked, as soon as we got through
eating which was probably about six or six-thirty. We walked until daylight the next
morning. There was a foot of snow and I had a pair of oxfords on, you know. Finally,
when we got up in the Pyrenees a ways, the guys said “Everybody lay down in the
snow.” So we had to lay down. And the — these people who were conducting the
embargo against anyone who was going to Spain — they patrolled this road to see if they
could catch anybody. But we were laying down so their lights went way above us, like as
high as that beam up above us. Then we got up and got going and then finally we got
over the mountain and started going down the other side.
So he bid us goodbye and turned around and went back. Then we ran into some
carabineros - border guards. Most of the guys that had already been in the fighting, that
had been in the war, wounded guys or something. We were taken to Figueros — I guess it
was. We went in a castle there and we stayed there maybe one or two days. We did a
little marching, you know, did a little training. We were so optimistic that we were going
to beat Franco. So from there we went to [Alpafeti]. Then we went to a little town near
there where the English speaking people went for training. I think it was called Terabella.
It's been so long, I forget. We were there fora couple or three weeks. That’s the only
training we had. I’ll never forget, some of these kids were out of New York, never shot a
rifle in their life and I grew up with a twenty-two and deer hunting with my dad. I
remember watching this kid. He put the gun up to his shoulder then closed his eyes and
squint and pulled the trigger. Of course, he didn’t hold it up against his chest — against
his shoulder hard enough so it kicked him. You have to hold it firmly. I told him, “How
the hell are you going to shoot fascists if you don’t open your eyes and aim the gun.” I
tried to show him and then the guy who was the sergeant came up to me and saw what
the problem was with this guy and so he was trying to show him how to shoot and to aim.
I don’t know what happened. I never saw the guy again after we left there.
And then, well we got a couple of weeks and there was a guy we met, we call him
California John. He was from Idaho, but he moved to California. And in Idaho, you
know, it’s snow in the winter and cold as hell and that stuff. He went to California. He
was so impressed with oranges and sunshine and everything. He was always bragging
about what they got in California. So we started calling him California John. He wound
up in the hospital after. I forget what for. I never saw him again either. Anyway, he went
up to join the battalion because there was a big breakthrough. That’s when the first retreat
was and then there was a second retreat after that. I never forgot.
I went up and joined the battalion. That night they put me on guard duty. I had a rifle. I
don’t know if it was loaded or not. Hell, I wouldn’t have known a fascist from my own
guys if they came up at night time. Hell, I didn’t know what I was doing. They stuck me
out there in the boonies. I remember the sergeant of the guard came looking for me to
change guard and the next morning. I remember, in the clearing there, maybe the size of a
half an acre or sol the guys were all around and they started lighting fires because it was
cold. I know Milt Wolff was there. He sent guys around to say you can’t light fires. The
smoke will let the fascists know where we are and the planes will come over and strafe us
and bomb us. So I looked across the clearing and there was Luke Hindman. I went up to
him and said, “Hi Luke,” and he started to smile and then he looked at me and said, “I’m
sorry you’re here.” Jesus, I was cut to the quick.
FH: Luke Hindman was —
PP; He was a scout for the battalion.
FH; But he was also a guy from Santa Clara County.
FH; Did he have to do with recruiting you?
PP; Well, I went because he did. I really went because Luke had gone. That’s what I had in
the back of my mind. Then he says, “I’m sorry you’re here.” Jesus, I felt bad. So I asked
him about it many, many, many, many years later. He used to live up at [Covalo] You
know where Covalo is? It’s east of Willets, I think it is. Most of it’s an Indian reservation,
but Luke’s family had some property up there and we went up and visited them. So I
asked him. He said the reason I was sorry to see you was that I knew we were going to
lose the goddam war because the fascists had so much more material than we did and we
lost so many battles already. I hated to see you get killed or something, but furthermore, I
didn't think you could take it. You know, the war and all the trouble. Lucky for me,
probably, I got all kinds of — I got blood poisoning. I got yellow jaundice. Probably,
that’s why I’m here today. If I’d stayed with the outfit I might not have, not necessarily, I
might have got shot.
FH; How many people were in you outfit?
PP; You mean in that company?
PP; Oh, I don’t know, a hundred, a hundred and fifty.
FH; Do you know how many went for the International Brigades from this country?
PP; Yeah, approximately three thousand. Eight hundred of them are buried in Spain. A lot of
them got wounded, a lot of them got killed in World War II, because they all volunteered,
you know, or were drafted. I was drafted. I was going to volunteer but I broke my elbow
all to hell so I waited. Having been to Spain during bad weather to train, I didn’t want to
do that here, so I was going to wait until about May to volunteer. In the first or seeond
day of February I fell off a ship head first. Lueky I didn’t break my neck. I threw my
arms out - like this - to protect my head and my thigh came up and hit the end of my
elbow. So I don’t have a radius bone going into my elbow. Looks funny in an x-ray,
because it’s cut back and it's floating in there. So anyway, I spent a lot of time in the
hospital in Spain with blood poisoning and yellow jaundice and then something else. I
never did find out what I had. And they wouldn't take my blood hem. I offered to
volunteer for a blood donation, but they wouldn't take it because I had yellow jaundice.
FH; Where were you in Spain when you first got into Spain?
PP; We were in the northern part. I think it was Charagona. And then, when we joined the
battalion, it was close to — it was the other side of the Ebro River. And then, the second
retreat, they had to come back across the river.
One of the guys who just died was a veteran who lived in the city area, his name was
Leonard Olsen, and Leonard Olsen had an interesting experience in getting across the
Ebro River. He was older than most guys. He was 92 when he died and his daughter was
very active in the Veterans’ deal. Anyway, Eeonard, in the retreat, people got separated,
some of them would be two or three hanging together, but a lot of the time, they were
individuals. They got through the fascist lines at night time or something and the
[unintelligible] got surrounded. Eeonard got to the river when it was just beginning to get
daylight and be knew if he tried to swim the river in daylight that they would shoot him.
There was a big - 1 mean a big pile of debris that had come down in the winter time when
the river flooded. He crawled into it. He wormed his way inside. Some fascist guy came
by and said, “come out of there.” He just assumed somebody was in there. Of course
Eeonard didn’t answer him. The guy shot into the thing, but the pile was probably as long
as from here to the wall, about twenty feet, and maybe as high as to the roof here. That
night he cut a lot of things — there’s a [unintelligible] grows along the Ebro River that
reminds me of bamboo. It’s not bamboo, but it reminds me of bamboo, the way it grows.
He cut a whole bunch of it.
Being a woodsman, he knew a lot of those things. He cut a bunch of those and tied them
together properly with his belt and whatever else he had, maybe shoestrings or something
and he put his rifle on top of it. He made a little raft and swam the Ebro River. He went
through the whole war and never got wounded or anything. The last time I saw him I told
him, “The reason you’re still alive is you’re just too damn mean to die.” He just laughed
FH; What’s his last name again?
PP: Eeonard Olsen. His daughter’s very active in the veterans' thing. When we went to
Spain and got our citizenship in '96 he had three women taking care of him, two
daughters and his wife. Anyway, he was there in a wheelchair most of the time. He was a
nice guy, a real nice guy.
Anyway, I [pinned] the battalion and then I got blood poisoning. Then I took the sweater
I told you about that Jim Vanjoul gave me. I happened to look down at my hand and there
was a red streak up my arm so I went to the doetor, Doetor Simon. He saved my life
twiee. He looked at it. He said, “Oh shit, you’ve got poisoning, blood poisoning.” The
guy that took me to him was named A1 Kaufman. A1 Kaufman was Commander of the
eompany for a while before Wolff was. A1 Kaufman, from what I heard, got pretty near
beheaded, anyway, he got a sabre ehop on the baek of the neek from a guy on horsebaek
and got killed. I used to dream about that. I dreamt I was them and I was able to shoot the
guy off his horse and save ATs life. It’s all a dream.
I went to the hospital there and they sent me down to Mureia on a train. Mureia was a big
hospital and it’s a rieh agrieultural area. They had a lot of good agrieultural stuff there.
Like you eould buy eookies on the street there, things like that, that you didn’t see up
further north. Then Franeo was malting a push to out Spain in two, so we were all loaded
on the train, all these wounded guys and stuff. I remember helping this one guy that was
wounded. I used to see them dress his shoulder and they would pull yards, I mean yards
of gauze about that wide (indioates three inohes) out of the damned wound and then
repaok it all the time. And I helped Jim as muoh as I eould to get aboard the train and
everything and I gave him eookies when I eould buy eookies downtown. Then we went
north and I wound up in another hospital and finally got over blood poisoning, went baek
to the outfit and trained with them for a while.
FH: How long did it take to get over that blood poisoning?
PP: Oh, probably a month or so. I wound up — before we went south I was in a plaee ealled
[Beneeafm]. That’s where this Juan Marsh, a famous tobaeeo smuggler owned a big - 1
mean had a mansion there, I mean a real mansion and we had all the room for the guys in
there. I remember the nurse eome in — and I eouldn’t speak any Spanish. She said
"Venga ehieo, venga aqui - ropa, ropa.” Clothes, you know, get dressed. I didn’t know
what the hell she was talking about so I turned over and went to sleep again. She earne
baek and she shook me some more. She took my elothes and handed them to me so I
knew that she wanted me to get dressed. Then we went to another hospital. I remember
sitting around there and they brought some wounded guys in. There was one kid who had
a wound in his leg. I went and helped him. He put his arm around my neek and I helped
him hobble over to the hospital. I helped several of the guys who were wounded. I eould
The next day we went to this plaee, [Beneeafin] and they bombed the hospital we’d been
in. They had a big red eross on top and it was a target for the faseist planes.
FH: So they got you out of there just in time.
FH: Did they have word that they’d bomb the hospital?
PP: Nobody knew. They just got us out of there beeause they were overloaded with people.
They had people in all the corridors, you know, they were bringing all the wounded guys
there. And the guys who were all moaning they wanted water — "agua, agua” and they
told us, "don’t give them any water. They have stomach wounds, it’ll kill 'em.” Anyway,
then I — Let’s see what happened next.
Then I went to a little town - where Diana went with me when we visited Spain on our
own - the town of [Repolo] . All it was, was about twenty houses and a big church and
store, and that was about it. Well, maybe thirty houses. We were there for a while being
taught first aid. We were supposed to learn how — What they told us we were going to be
doing was taking mules from the [unintelligible] bad country, and put the wounded on the
mules and take them out. Why that was important I don’t know, but they wanted us to
learn all the parts of the mule in Spanish - the calves, the forelegs, the back legs, and all
that - which we didn’t do, of course.
FH: That was so you’d know what to do when it came to butchering a mule.
PP: I guess. Well, anyway, we were there for a while and I remember, one night I had to go to
the bathroom. It was raining a little bit and the latrine was down a ways. I went outside
the church we were sleeping in to take a leak, and the guy who was on guard duty there,
he said, “you can’t go there. You have to go down to the toilet.” He spoke in English.
When I came back I said, “Where ’d you learn English?” He said, “I spent ten years in the
States.” I wanted to talk to him, but he was gone the next day. He’d gone to join his
We were there for a while and then we were sent to join the battalion again. A bout that
time they were training to get ready to go across the river, the Ebro. Anyway, they went
across the river and I adopted Bill Bailey because he was big and I could see him. When
he’d fall down. I’d fall down, when they were bombing or something. Einally, I couldn’t
keep up anymore. I said, “Bill, I can’t keep up.” He said, “I'm sorry, kid. I guess you’ll
just have to drop out.” Years later when I started going to the Veterans’ meetings every
year. I’d run into Bill and he says, "God, I’m glad to see you, kid. I didn’t know what
happened to you. I thought I’d never see you again. I said, '’’Here I am.” Before he died -
I talked to him the day before he died. He said, “I love you very much.”
[End Tape 2]
[Begin Tape 3 - Side 1 (A)]
FH: Bill Bailey. And just mentioned you saw Bill Bailey before he died.
PP: No, I phoned him.
FH: That lucky conversation.
PP: Yeah, I always liked him.
FH; Did you know him before you began?
PP; I didn’t know him until I went to Spain. I met him in a gully in Spain where we were
eamped. And, I also met another guy there that got killed, Joe Bianeo. He was eonsidered
the best soldier in the Battalion. He finally got killed. Joe was and interesting guy. He
was a kind of gruff guy, you know. He’d been a seaman. He and A1 Kaufman were
buddies and they both got killed. A1 Kaufman damn near got beheaded by a Moor on
horsebaek with a sabre.
FH: Were the Moors uniformed differently?
PP: You know, what I don’t understand is, the Moors were exploited by the Spaniards, but
still the Spaniards brought a buneh of Moors over to Spain and used them as soldiers.
They were very good fighting soldiers from what I gather. But they’d been fighting the
Spaniards for years so maybe they knew all about it. Yeah, some people had some pretty
bad experienees with the Moors. Cause they were tough, tough guys.
FH: What made them tougher than the Spaniards?
PP: I don’t know. I guess their eulture and stuff; they are really rugged people. I never saw— I
saw one Moorish kid and he was on our side, but I didn’t have any experienee with them
FH: The Moors, were they blaek or dark skinned? Afriean types?
PP: They’re not as dark as the Blaek - uh Negro people are. As a matter of faet, they they’re
not mueh darker than the Mexiean people are, for example. [FH: The Moors refer to
Moroeeo — ] Yeah, they’re from Moroeeo, Spanish Moroeeo. This kid, be was aetually
from Freneh Moroeeo, and he went over to visit his eousin in Spanish Moroeeo and they
eonfiseated him into the army. When he had a ehanee - Someway, I don’t know how he
did it, but he got over our side. I’ll never forget, he was a young guy and when a friend of
mine and I were in Bareelona and he was trying to negotiate with a prostitute. So when he
eame baek we were kidding him about it. He got all flustered and embarrassed, blushed,
and everything else.
One thing I wanted to tell you about is, when we went aeross the river (this is before I fell
out, of eourse) we went to this small town. I don’t think it had more than forty houses in
it, and — Many people today have never heard of a thrashing floor, but in Spain they have
these areas of probably, maybe thirty feet aeross, twenty-five feet aeross, something like
that. They’re round and a hard elay floor. They have a wall around them about three feet
high I guess. They put the grain in there and they walk the horses over the grain — or the
mules — they walk them over and over again. Then they piteh - with a pitehfork — they
piteh the stray out. Then, on a windy day, they throw the grain up in the air and let the
wind blow the ehaff away. That’s the way they thrash the grain.
FH; What about when the horse takes a dump?
PP: I guess they have to elean it up. But the thing that was interesting about that was not so
mueh - well, I was interested in the thrashing vain, how they thrashed the grain, beeause
it’s the same way they been doing it sinee the time of Christ. But what was interesting
was, I was sitting in the sunshine. It was kind of eool day and I was sitting in the sunshine
against the wall to keep the wind off me and I was trying to learn — I had a Spanish-
English dietionary, and I was trying to learn more Spanish. There was a buneh of kids
there. When I say a buneh, just a few, there were only about seven of them, beeause it
was a small village. The leader was a girl about twelve years old. They eome and looked
at me and then they all giggled. You know how kids are. “Extranjeros,” they ealled us,
foreigners. Then she sat down and she helped me pronounee Spanish words, only for
about ten minutes. Then her attention span was gone and she wanted to play some more.
She did this for a eouple of days, and while I was there, I heard a voiee over my head, in
halting English say, “Do you have any eigarettes?” I didn’t have any, but I had got some
from the states in a letters. They had put a whole paek of them in a letter, and I’d give 'em
to this guy who did smoke. I figured that they owed me, so I went and got a eouple of
eigarettes from one of the guys I knew and brought them baek. And I thought this guy
was not Spanish. He was tall for a Spaniard. He was about six foot one or something like
that. So we started talking and his English started to eome baek to him a little as he talked
to me. He was a German guy who had sailed from Hamburg, Germany to New York
before World War I. He fell in love with an Ameriean girl and then when the war broke
out he didn’t want to fight against the United States so when his ship touehed the Spanish
port, he jumped ship and went inland so they wouldn’t find him and stayed them and
married a Spanish woman and had two kids that were in the army. But I thought it was
kind of interesting what happens. That’s one reason why I like to travel, too, beeause you
meet interesting people, people who have done something out of the ordinary like he had.
He tried to volunteer for the Army in plaee of his youngest son who was only seventeen,
but he was too old. They wouldn’t take him. I never saw him again either beeause we
went on with our advanee.
FH; What was his name?
PP: I have no idea. I don’t know if I even asked him.
Another experienee I had in Spain that might be of interest was on my twenty - fourth
birthday. I was in the hospital as usual.
FH; What were you in the hospital for at that time?
PP; Yellow jaundiee. There’s another name for it. What do they eall it? Hepatitis. I ean’t give
blood. I tried to give blood in World War II. I gave it one time and then they found out I
had hepatitis and they wouldn’t take my blood anymore beeause it eould be passed to
other people through the blood. Anyway, I was in the hospital and looking sad I guess.
This nurse eame up and said, "Que pasa, ehieo?” I said “Nada.” “Que pasa?” “Nada”
“Chieo, que pasa?” What’s wrong, you know. And I said - in my halting Spanish, I said.
“Hoy es mi vente-cuatro ano” - my twenty-fourth year. She said, "Oh.” and she walked
away. I just thought that was the end on that, but that night, when all the lights were out
exeept the hall light. They had the hall lights on because the nurses around at night to see
that everything’s okay, she brought me a custard and I know that the custard materials
came out of the mouths of her family, because they were on rations. So it was a gesture
on her part of gratitude to foreigners who came help her defend the democratic
government they had elected in Spain. Usually, when I tell that story, I pretty near cry.
(tears) I couldn’t even thank her. I thanked her the next day, but I couldn’t thank her then.
FH; What were the circumstances which brought about the Civil War?
PP: In Spain?
FH; What is your understanding of what the democratic government was and how was it put
in place and how was it challenged?
PP: Well, back about 1932 the people were getting pretty restless and the king abdicated and I
think they had a fascist dictator for a while. I forget what his name was. He was a dictator
of some kind or another. Then they had an election in '32 and they brought in the
Republic. They had another election in '34 - the Popular Front government. Then they
had another election in '36, and they won, the Popular Front won all three of those
elections. The fascist minded people and some of those who were just anti-democratic
ganged up together and Franco tried to seize power, but he was only able to in certain
PH: He was in charge of the army?
PP: He was a general in the army.
FH; He was one of many?
PP; One of many. Matter of fact, he was in Morocco, and, some way or another, I guess he
had leadership of [unintelligible] in a way because they elected him - or appointed him —
to be head of the army eventually. Then, after the war of course, he became the dictator
for 39 years.
FH; Who were Los Cuatro Generates, the four generals?
PP: I don’t know who they were. But another incident that really shows how people felt about
the Republic, to me was very interesting to me. A friend of mine named Johnny Planner,
from San Jose and a third guy were walking back to the hospital and - we’d been
downtown - and there were two old Spanish ladies — I say old - they may have only been
in their fifties -
FH; In what town?
PP: I think it was in the town of Bartolome, which is north of Barcelona. And the older
women dressed in black. And I guess the dirt doesn’t show so much. Anyway, these two
little old ladies standing on the sidewalk, talking, and they had — you know the little
saying about necessity is the mother of invention — Well, in Spain they learned to fold up
newspaper to make a basket for strawberries or something. They had about five
strawberries and I asked them, in my lousy Spanish, “Donde es posible comprar esta?”
Where is it possible to buy these? “No es possible.” They wanted me to take them. I said
no. I took the smallest one, but I wouldn’t take the rest of them. I thought to myself, this
is a chance to ask a Spanish citizen what they really think of the Republic because there
were no soldiers around, no official just these two old ladies and me and then Johnny was
behind with that other guy. As they came up I said, “Johnny, you speak good Spanish.
Ask these ladies what they think of the Republic.” I'll never forget the reply. She drew
herself up to all five feet tall and said, “My grandson is as good as the Mayor’s son. He
can read and write” That was probably the first person in all the thousand years of her
family living in Spain. None of them had ever been able to read and write before. That
was very important.
PH: And he learned to read and write because of the Republic?
PP: Because of the Republic — and they had schools. Before, the only people who learned to
read and write were priests and wealthy families which had their kids tutored, you know,
or special schools.
The thing is, about Spain, Juan Carlos, just appointed Franco, I’m sure, because Juan
Carlos, when he got in power, he didn’t follow what Franco had been doing. He even
allowed the Communist Party to be legal. It never had become very powerful, but
nevertheless, it was legal. They had all kinds of political parties. Like, when we went
back in 1996 and got our honorary citizenship of Spain, I noticed there were a lot of flags
around for the Young Communist League of Spain, the Young Socialists, the Anarchists,
all kinds of different parties. One of the weaknesses of Spain, I think, is that they have
too many parties.
I spent a lot of time in the hospital there. I was sick a lot.
FH: How long were you in the hospital?
PP: Oh, with yellow jaundice, I was over a month, a month and a half Early on I got blood
poisoning and the doctor from New York, who was there named Simons, he saved my
life twice I guess. I got blood poisoned and I showed it to the temporary company
commander. He took me to the doctor. He said, “I won’t have anybody that can’t keep up
because we lost too many guys in the retreat who were injured or sick or whatever and I
don’t want anymore.” So I went to the hospital and they sent me to a place called
Benecacin and here we stayed there - the building that was the hospital actually was the
mansion of Juan Marsh. Juan Marsh was noted as a tobacco smuggler and was a very,
very wealthy person. Of course, he was also pro-Franco. But anyway, we stayed in his
mansion and then one night I was sound asleep and the nurse came in and said, “chico.
chico venga (come)” I didn’t know what she was talking about beeause I hadn’t been
there very long and I didn’t know hardly any Spanish so I just turned over and went back
to sleep. She eame baek again am shook me and said, “Ropa, ropa (clothes).” Finally she
handed me my clothes and I knew she wanted me to get dressed. So I got dressed am we
got on a bus and we went to the train and we were sent to a town in Southern Spain, my
mind isn’t working for me today, what was the name of that town — [Mureia]. I was there
for eight or ten days.
I wish I had known that the young guys, when they disappeared every morning that they
were going to sehool - 1 would have gone with them. They were kids who eouldn’t read
and write — Spanish kids. They'd look out the window and holler at the girls going by,
“Hey rubia (redhead).” There was one guy in the room there who didn’t go out, or didn’t
go anyplaee. He had a wound in his shoulder and I never forgot - it seemed like to me
they put yards and yards of inch and a half or inch wide bandage on his shoulder, packed
it in there. So when we got ready to move north, they us up, got to go up to northern
Spain beeause Franco was threatening to split Spain in two, I kind of took care of him on
the train beeause he could hardly move around. I used to go out, Murcia was very
wealthy compared with [unintelligible] wealthy agricultural area. They had sugar and
stuff, they'd make eookies and stuff and sold the cookies on the street. I’d bring them
back for this guy. Then we [the eampaign] went north, went to Barcelona, I believe, at
that time. Then I got over my blood poisoning and I rejoined the outfit, and did some
more training. Eventually we went across the Ebro in August. It was the dying gasp of the
Republic. Because they just didn’t have the materials.
FH; Did you make it aeross the Ebro?
PP: Yeah. That was interesting, too. We were just out from the Ebro, a little ways baek,
maybe a hundred yards, sleeping in this olive orehard and they had us fall in and we fell
in to that dry creek bed. Just as we got out of the olive orehard, they dropped a few
mortar shells in there. We were pretty lueky. That’s when I decided I was going to follow
Bill Bailey. Whatever Bill did, I would do. If he fell down, I’d fall down. So, we were
wading aeross the Ebro.
FH; How did you get to know Bill Bailey at that point? How did he stand out from the rest?
PP; He was taller. But Bill had a lot of charisma and when we were resting and in training I
got to know him then. He fell down then when they started dropping these mortar shells
around, so I did too - hit the ground. But then we were waiting to cross the Ebro and they
brought over a bunch of fascist prisoners they’d captured - maybe fifty or sixty guys.
They brought them with several rowboats. The young Spanish kid who was our first-aid
guy, all of a sudden he let out a cry and he ran into the midst of all the prisoners, grabbed
one guy and hugged him. It turned out it was his brother. His brother had been recruited
forcefully - in other words. “You will go in the army on the fascist side!” He turned
around and went aeross the river with us, on our side to help his brother with first-aid.
There are a lot of little instances like that which happen in wartime that are very
interesting. As I said before, I couldn’t keep up and I went and dropped out. When I
dropped out, I stayed in this little patch of scrub pine for a while. I realize — I stayed
there all that day and all that night. Then I realized that, hell, I could have died them and
nobody’ d ever know where I was. I had to rescue myself, so I got up and staggered over
to this house that wasn’t too far away. They have wells, the wells are inside the house. I
think it’s because going way back, probably, when they had fights between the Spaniards
and the Moors a long time ago, so they built them this way so they’d have a water supply
inside, available. They have these jars that go on a continuous rope. They go down into
the water and bring the water up and at the top - as they go over the top of the pulley,
they dump the water in this trough. So I filled my canteens and drank some and I washed
my face and stuff. Then I started walking towards where I heard the firing. The road had
a kind of a bend in it and I could hear some guys talking in the brush there. They could
have been fascists for all I knew. I had no idea who they were but I knew I went in there
in my lousy Spanish and said, “Donde esta la Quince Brigada?” They pointed straight
ahead. So I went ahead. The first guy I ran into was Dr. Simons and he took a look at me
and said. Oh, shit, you’ve got the yellow jaundice. Catch that mule. And as the mule was
taking off with a wounded kid on it, I think the kid had a wounded hip, but anyway he
was riding —
FH; This was on the opposite side of the Ebro?
PP; After we crossed the Ebro, Yeah. I grabbed the mule’s tail. I didn’t think of him kicking
me or anything. I hung onto the mule’s tail, and he was kind of towing me along because
I was sicker than hell. They started shooting at us. We could see little puffs of dust where
the bullets were hitting the ground all around us. It was lucky we didn't get hit, because
there were three of us and a mule. The civilian started to trying to make the mule nm
became he wanted to get the hell out and get undercover. There was a hill when we were
going to go behind. He started running and I just let go of the mule's tail. I tell you, Ered,
it was the only time in my life I didn't care if I lived or died. I was so sick, I didn't care. I
just didn't care. I didn't try to run. They were shooting at me. I didn’t hurry up and run, I
just kept walking the same.
FH; Y ou were walking between the bullets.
PP: Yeah, I walked between the bullets is right. And that’s when I wound up in the jail - 1
mean that’s when I wound up in the hospital with yellow jaundice.
[Turned off for a minute]
FH; How long did it take you to get to the hospital when you were no longer attached to the
PP: It was a field mule - 1 mean a field hospital - a field mule too - a field hospital, and
probably twenty minutes. It wasn't that far away, but it was behind some hills so they
actually couldn’t hit it. They might have been able to with mortars, but I don't know, but
they weren't bothering it. There was this house they were using as a first-aid station I
went in there and lay down on it - on the springs of a bed — it had no mattress or
anything. I just lay on the springs. After a while they brought in a guy that had a
sunstroke and laid him right next to me. He was rolling his head from side to side going
(breathes deeply) like that. It kind of bothered me, so I elimbed over him. He was on the
outside and I was on the inside. I climbed over him and went out and sat in the shade of a
tree. There was a train there, a medical train and, they were operating on a guy while
another guy and I were standing them watching them operate. They saw us and they
pulled the blind down. And then —
FH; Were they using - [unintelligible] Did they put the people out before they operated?
PP: I couldn’t tell. They were in this train and it was higher than we were. I assumed they
were. Or, they might have just been wrapping up guys’ legs or something, it was an
emergency place. That night they took us across the Ebro River, back, in some row boats.
They had a bunch of guns and ammunition they'd captured in the boat with us. From
there I went to the hospital where I stayed for a month and half or two months, I guess,
FH; What was the treatment they gave you?
PP; They made sure you didn't eat certain types of food - any kind of greasy food or anything
like that. Other than that I don’t remember anything. You just rest. I know that one time I
felt I was getting better so I was going to go somewhere. I walked about six blocks and I
had to sit down. I just didn’t have any strength. After a while I got better and went back
to the outfit. About that time, the Spaniards —
FH; Who was the head of the outfit?
PP; You mean the company? I guess Milt Wolff was Commander by then. About that time
they had decided to withdraw, the Internationals, hoping that the League of Nations could
force Hitler, Mussolini to withdraw, but that was a laugh. They just ignored the League of
Nations dictates and stayed there. For example, when they had the boycott of Spain,
England and France patrolled the western coast of Spain and Portugal, and made sure that
no money or no arms went into Spain. Then on the eastern side, the Mediterranean side.
Franco, no, not Franco, Hitler and Mussolini had their troops patrolling, their boats and
stuff They kept everything on our side out, but on the side where they were patrolling
that was for Franco. They just kept bringing all the armament and ammunition and
everything they needed for warfare into Spain on their side. So they were very fair about
FH; Fair about supporting the fascists against — Why were they opposed to the Popular
Government? Why were Britain and France opposed to your side?
PP; I think — They had just gotten over World War I. That was in 1917. This was in '36.
It wasn’t that long before and it was a strong memory. Actually, and I hate to say this, but
there were people in the United States, France and England who were pro-Franco. They
weren’t very loud about it because the population as a whole was about 75% were for the
Republic, but they didn’t want to get involved. They didn’t think they wanted another
war and they were shortsighted because they couldn’t see what Hitler was really up to.
The funny part was though, there wasn’t a Jewish kid in New York City that was fifteen
years old that didn’t know what was happening in Germany. But our government didn’t
know. Sure they didn’t know.
FH; I remember, in about '39, 1 was five and I remember clearly that we shared in our family
in our family against Hitler and against the Axis. How did you feel about Roosevelt?
PP: I liked Roosevelt because of some of the things he did, some of the social programs here
in the United States, but his joining in the boycott made me feel not very good about it. I
felt they were being short sighted. They just didn’t realize what was coming up. We were
not out of Spain but a few months until Hiller went into the Lowlands. We got out of
there in November or December, I guess, and he was in the Lowlands, within three
FH: And the lowlands were where?
PP: Holland, and in those countries along the coast there. They just invaded them because
there was no resistance. I think the French had the marginal line and Hitler just took his
tanks around the end of the Goddamn thing. That didn’t stop him at all. It was an
interesting time in history and I often wonder if we learned anything from history. If you
don’t learn from history, you’re bound to repeat it.
FH: Getting back to the field hospital, what was the field hospital like before you made it
down to the Ebro?
PP: Well it was, if you ever watch "E.R.” — where all the wounded come first. The seriously
wounded, they try to patch them up well enough to get them to a regular hospital. The
guys like me that were just sick or slightly wounded, they just gather you up and take you
anyway. Well, this time, we had to go across the Ebro at night time in boats - but when
you got to the other side, they took you by bus to the hospital. The badly wounded guys -
they took them by ambulance to the regular hospital. Barcelona there was a big one.
FH: How long did you spend in the field hospital?
PP: Just one day. I got there about ten o’clock in the morning and got us out of there that
FH: Then it took how long to get to the regular hospital?
PP: Just a matter of hours. It wasn’t that far.
FH: How did you spend your days in the hospital?
[Tape 3 - Side 2 (B)]
PP: I used to go up on the roof with this German guy that I got to know. He spoke good
English and. The Germans are great on getting sun tanned. He just went up there to get a
sun tan. Then, it was funny, he was one of the nieest built males I’d ever seen - like Atlas
- you know, broad shoulders and everything, and I really felt bad for him in a way,
beeause the faet that he was sueh a well-built person and his right hand had a bullet go
right through the palm of his hand so his band was like a elaw. It reminded me of a
beautiful painting in a museum that somebody had taken a knife and slashed and ruined it
I mean, I felt that way about him.
FH; Who was that guy?
PP; A German guy. What people don’t understand is that there were a lot of Germans who
were anti-Hitler. Hitler killed a lot of them in the coneentration eamps along with Jews
and Gypsies. A friend of mine told me about a book — I wrote it down someplaee - I’d
like to read about the Germans, who aetually, in the underground against Hitler and what
they’d did and all that.
FH; The Thaelmann Batalion
PP; Pardon me.
FH; The Thaelmann Batalion. Ernst Thaelmann was the leader of the Communists in
Germany, or a leader, and the German battalion in Spain in the International Brigades
was the Thaelmann Battalion.
There was guy in San Jose who you may have met some years ago. He was an aetive
Communist in Germany in the early thirties. Then he eame here in the late thirties. And
he was a Jew also. He experieneed the years when faseism was developing in Germany.
But that’s still another story and I don’t remember his name [unintelligible] - Karl —
PP; He was lueky to get here, beeause they were sereening the people eoming here pretty
FH; Oh yes. Y ou voted for Roosevelt?
PP; I guess I did, yeah.
FH; And Roosevelt got you with the boyeott. Did you vote for Roosevelt after you eame baek
PP; I don’t remember. I didn’t vote Republiean, that’s for sure. Maybe I did. I don’t know.
FH; There weren’t too many ehoiees.
PP: You know, the speaker we had. You were there this year at the Veterans, meeting. The
speaker we had wrote a book ealled Going South, Looking North, [Ariel] Dorfman. One
thing he pointed out there was the failing of the Communists in our eountry. Two things,
I think why the Communist Party never really made it in our state: one is, they followed
the Russian line too elosely, where the Italian Communist Party was on its own and so
was the German. They all belonged to the [Comintern] from what I gather. I never was
involved in that, but they just followed the line and the average Ameriean worker eould
eare less. The other thing they did, and Dorfman points out in his book, very strongly,
that you don’t alienate people just beeause they don’t agree with you 100%. In the
Communist Party they had the tendeney that if you didn’t agree with them 100%, you
must be a Trotskyite or something, and they would kiek them out.
FH: What was a Trotskyite in your view?
PP: Pardon me.
FH: When they would eall people a Trotskyite that eould mean. . .
PP: I didn’t understand it all beeause I was young and hadn’t read that mueh about it. I
understand Trotsky and Stalin didn’t agree and Trotsky was foreed out and he went to
Mexieo and finally somebody assassinated him down there. Maybe he had good ideas
too, but Stalin was able to eliminate most of those ideas along with some of the people
who didn’t agree with him. Anyhow, Dorfman points out that you have to have allies and
if you try to make everybody believe 100% like you do, you're going to have a very
narrow base. And that’s what happened, I think, to the Communist Party in Ameriea.
They just got so narrow that they eventually faded out. Then, when the Soviet Union
folded up, that wiped the Party out.
FH: They still put out a newspaper, but not mueh other evidenee of them.
FH: Most of your days were in bed at the field hospital and at the regular hospital.
PP: At first they were, but as I got better I’d be up every day and just sit around.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t mueh to read there. While I was there ineidentally, here’s
something interesting. I was raised in Campbell and when I grew up I read a lot of
western stories beeause my neighbor took a lot of western magazines and I eould borrow
them. We were poor and I eouldn’t afford to buy them. So, when I got to Spain, I had
never heard of Hemingway. I didn’t know who in the hell he was. Then one day someone
said, “Hey Hemingway’s in there. Hemingway's up in the other room there,” I said, “Oh,
so what.” So I went in there to take a look at the guy and he was watehing Gail Stewart,
who was one of the guys that went to Spain, a real niee guy who lost his arm over there.
They were bandaging the stub of his arm and Hemingway was talking to him. Then I
didn’t see Gail Stewart again until a few years ago when Wolff moved out here from the
East Coast, New York, I guess. They had a meeting of the Veterans down in Carmel, I
think it was, or maybe it was Monterey and Gail was there and I reeognized him. Like all
of us, he got a lot older. He died shortly after that. But I never knew him. I knew who he
was, but I never got to know him very well.
FH; Whieh person in Spain were you elosest with?
PP: Well, of all the people I met in Spain that I really felt elose to, the first guy was Tom
Flaherty. Now, there's a book out ealled “Comrades’” by Hany Fisher. He ealled him Tom
O'Flaherty, but he didn't have the “O” in front of his name. There were the O'Flaherty
brothers. I think there were three or four of them went to Spain, but Tom Flaherty was a
different guy and he and I went to Spain at the same time. I met him on board ship, on the
SS Washington. And I don't know, sometimes there am eertain guys you take to right
away and bond. I liked him very mueh and then he and me getting siek and in the hospital
all the time. He beeame a seout and then Luke — Did you know Luke Hindman?
PP: Luke Hindman was a seout, head of the seouts, and we were at this one position — or they
were, I guess I wasn’t there then. Luke realized there were some Fascists on the hill
above them. So he went back to the battalion headquarters and reported they were. But
the Brigade scouts had not heard them or seen them and they didn’t agree. So they took
the word of the Brigade over the Battalion scouts and by the time Luke started to go back
to where he had these two or three scouts who were with him, the fascists had come down
the hill and actually shot— from what I gather, they actually shot Tom — in his bed clothes
yet. I mean while he was wrapped up in a blanket trying to sleep. It was early in the
morning, just turned light. So he lost his life. I corresponded with his brother a couple of
times by phone. He sent me some stuff about Tom. Tom was an expert boxer and while
he was in Spain, the Catalonians were mad at him because he beat their heavyweight and
he was a light heavyweight. The guy outweighed him by about thirty or forty pounds, but
he wasn’t as good a fighter. Tom won the boxing match and the Catalonians practically
wanted to hang him or something. It was their pride and ego. I think ego is the worst
enemy we have — people’s egos.
FH; How did it affect things for you in Spain?
PP; Well, there was always some guys that thought they knew everything. You know, kind of
egotistical. But that didn’t bother me very much, except for one guy. I grew up with
walnuts, with California. My uncle discovered one of the walnuts. It’s named Payne
walnuts and it’s the one from which all — when they do any cross breeding, they always
use Payne in the background because it produces heavier than most walnut crops. This
guy. . .1 saw a walnut tree and said, “There’s a walnut.” I was surprised and shouldn’t
have been, particularly, but I was. The guy said, “That isn’t walnut,” I said, “Yes, it is,”
and he said, “No, it isn’t.” He was from back east and he was thinking of black walnuts
and I was thinking of English walnuts and it was an English walnut. I finally looked
under the tree and found a shell so I could show him, but he was a smart-ass guy, an
egotistical guy, a lot of other things too, it wasn’t just walnuts.
There are a lot of things that happened. It’s kind of hard for me to remember them all
now. I told you about my birthday and uh —
FH; When you got out of the hospital, after that month and a half, what happened then?
PP: Well, I got sent baek to the battalion and we were getting ready to go home. By the way,
we were in this little town and we were there for about, a eouple of weeks getting ready
to go home. I did a lot of walking around this town, a small town and also up in some
hills there. And this fellow from Hayward named Joe, I can’t think of his last name now,
little Joe, he and I went climbing up the hill just for the hell of it. We finally got us ready
to go home and we got on the train. As we went through the gap in the mountains, well a
gap in the hills, and we went over to Le Carol I think it was, in France. Our train took us
over there and when we got off, and I went back to Spain. As it was going back to Spain,
the fascists came over and bombed it. So, they had spies all over who knew what we were
doing all the time. I think I saw one guy who I think might have been a spy one time.
FH; What made you think he was a spy?
PP; I don’t know, I was just suspicious of his actions. I don’t know. I don’t speak Spanish so
I didn’t have any way of communicating with him or anything.
FH; What was the name of that town in France?
PP; I think it was called Le Carol, I think.
FH; Do you know how to spell it?
PP; I have no idea.
FH; Was it in the Pyrenees?
PP; Actually, it was on the plains. It was fimny. It was just a big railroad station. They fed us
there and it’s a wonder we didn’t get sick because the fed us pretty well compared to
what we were used to eating. We were them for two or three hours and then we got on a
French train and went into Paris and to — like Ellis Island I guess. We were confined to
this place. They didn’t want us to go wandering around, but the back fence wasn’t that
high. A lot of guys jumped the back fence and went downtown and bought chocolate and
stuff like that and brought it back. Again, it was a wonder we didn’t get sick because we
gorged ourselves on chocolate.
From there, we went aboard the SS — the Paris SS something. City of Paris or something
like that, a steamer, and it took us to New York. Incidentally, somebody sabotaged it and
in the beginning of the war it sunk in New York Harbor.
When we got to the United States, of eourse, we had to go through Customs and they
tried to be pretty tough with us. I remember that this one reporter eame up to me and he
said, in a sneering way, “I suppose you’re a good American." I said, “Yeah, one of my
ancestors ran around the land that [unintelligible] got from the Indians.” All the land that
one man could ran around in a day, and I suppose it was a great uncle of mine that did it.
A guy by the name of Yates. I’d like to write to the, maybe I will someday, the
Pennsylvania Historical society and see if that story is true. My grandmother told it to
me. I suppose that it is. Anyway, he just looked at me, laughed and turned around and
walked away. In other words, they were just doing anything they could to put us down
FH; Did they inspect your baggage in a thorough manner?
PP: Oh yeah, very.
FH; Did they abuse you in any way.
PP: No, no, they didn’t bother me. They just said, “You’ll have to give up your passport.”
FH; And what did they note on the passport?
PP: Not valid to travel. They just took my passport. It already had that, “Not valid to travel to
FH; They took your passport and they didn't give it back?
PP: I never got it back for ten years. I didn’t try, but when I wanted to go someplace ten years
later, on a trip, after I got married, I applied for a passport. I didn’t have any trouble
getting it. But by then things had kind of died down. It was after the McCarthy period.
Maybe it was more than ten years. Anyway, things were evening out a little bit, you
know, little by little, like, when I went to work for the University.
FH: Let’s go back. In Spain, when you were with your battalion, how was the food?
PP: Not that great
FH; What was it?
PP: Well, we had lots of garbanzos, lentils, and in some places. Other places we had beans,
some meat once in a while, not very much, but one thing we had in this one place I was
for a while, Ripol. There was only about twelve. . .There was a little village, only about
forty houses up in the hills and a big church. We slept in the church on stretchers. When
we were there for a while, they would serve us bacalao, which is salt cod. It was terrible.
But that’s what they had and that’s what we ate. They didn’t have many kettles. They
said they’d have to cook one meal in a kettle then they’d have to get it out of the kettle to
be able to be ready for the next meal, so a lot of times our garbanzos were only about half
cooked. The food was terrible. There was a Seottish guy there. We always ealled him
Seotty. He’d lost all his teeth and why he volunteered for Spain, I don’t know. And why
they aecepted him, I don’t know, beeause he was not a young guy and he’d lost his teeth
and we used to eall him Caldo beeause of soup, they always had to have soup for him
beeause he eouldn’t ehew up the garbanzos and stuff. They’d eall him out first and serve
him and then we were on the line. He died there, too. I don’t know if he got shot, or just
died. I lost traek of him.
FH; How many men in your battalion? Were there any women in your battalion?
FH; Any women nurses?
PP: Yeah. The nurses were in the hospitals though, they weren’t with the battalion.
FH: But they were International Brigade nurses?
PP: Yeah. It’s funny, I never ran across any American nurses. I ran aeross English nurses. I
had two doetors. One was from Romania and one from Bulgaria, women doetors. When I
had yellow jaundiee though, I was in this big hospital, she used to feel my thigh. You
know, she’d press and see how things were going. It tiekled me. I was tieklish in those
days. I’m not now. It’s funny how a guy can change, but anyway I giggled and the whole
ward would laugh. She ealled me Nino. “Nino, Nino” she say, baby. I guess those
women, to get an edueation in those eountries. Was really something to be a doetor. They
must have come from pretty wealthy families, because the average woman didn’t get any
education in those eountries in those days. You know, we don’t realize, we have no
eoneept of what so many people have to put up with in all these other eountries. Even
woman in our eountry, until 1926 when they finally got the vote. They had to put up with
a lot of erap, had to have a male relative to do their business for them. They weren’t
allowed to do their own business and so on. I don’t know.
FH; When you got baek from Spain, did you go baek to your family when you arrived in
PP; We arrived in New Yolk and we got put on a train. We stopped in Chieago and went to a
dinner there, they weleomed the veterans. Then we went on the train again and wound up
in San Francisco. I believe it was a train - or was it a bus? No, it was a bus. It wasn’t a
train. It was a bus. We got to San Franeisco and the Friends of the Abraham Fineoln
Brigade had a big meeting to welcome us home. We walked in and everyone stood up
and eheered and hollered and elapped. I was embarrassed. And — then I went home to
Campbell. My folks were glad to see me, of eourse.
Onee while I was in Spain they got a telegram from the Spanish government that I was
missing in aetion. I wasn’t. I was in the hospital or something. It was some mix up. It
upset them pretty mueh, but they got a letter from me about the same time telling them I
was in the hospital. My folks welcomed me. To a lot of people in Campbell, I was the
local Red as far as they were concerned because I fought in Spain. I wonder what they
thought of after when we all got involved in the war. I don’t think a lot of them ever
made the connection between the war in Spain and World War II.
FH; The U.S. government didn’t, why should they?
PP; Yeah, we were premature anti-fascists. I remember the first time I heard that expression.
It was when I went in the Navy in World War II. I got drafted. I had a bad arm. I had it
busted up in the shipyards. It kept me out of service for quite a while. Finally they took
me anyway even though I had eleven and three-quarters disability in my left arm. When I
went to go in the Navy, there was this guy behind a desk kept looking to his right while
he was talking to me, kept looking over there. I said, “If you’re looking for my VIB card,
it’s in the other pile.”
FH; VIB? Meaning what?
PP: Veterans of the International Brigade. We were bad people. He said, “You’ll have to go
up and see the Old Man.” He took me upstairs to see this admiral. He had gold from his
wrist to his elbow, to his shoulder. He’d retired, but he came back in to help with the war
effort because he couldn’t help them recruiting and stuff. I saw him and he said, “Well,
young man, bow’d you happen to go to Spain? I said, “I don’t approve of fascism.”
“Good enough reason, I guess.” he said. Then the old bastard said, “It won’t cost any
more to get you killed than anybody else.” I didn’t say tha nk you sir, but under my
breath, as I walked out I said, “Thank you, sir, you old son of a bitch.” That’s where I
heard that expression, “premature anti-fascist.”
FH: That was on your record, you thi nk ?
PP: I think it was. Once again it came up when I was —
FH; When you came home from Spain and went home to your home, your family house in
Campbell, what was your house like?
PP: Well, it was a big bungalow type house. My grandfather used to stay with us once in a
while and he put a floor upstairs over the cross beams, not the rafters, but the ceiling
joists, I guess they call it. On one part, he made a floor and he stayed up there. The whole
attic was open then. It was a huge place. Then when I got older I stayed up there. That
was my room. I used to love to lay in bed and listen to the rain on the roof
FH; When you got back to your family house, you still had your room set aside?
PP: Oh yeah, and all my sisters cried. They had worried about me. You know, I had four
sisters and one of them was pregnant as hell. She got married while I was gone. Married a
jackass. Anyway — What did I do first?
FH; Did your sisters or anyone else in your family do anything relative to Spain? Were they
aetive at all?
PP: No. My dad was a Republiean. My dad was a good guy and he was pretty liberal, but it
was just in the family. They’d always been Republicans ever since Lincoln From clear
back to Lincoln’s time. All my relatives on Payne Ranch, on Payne Avenue, were
I forgot exactly what work I did when I first got home from Spain. Well I helped my dad.
I worked with him pruning trees in the winter time and in the summer time, picked fruit.
Of course, that was the end of thirty-nine to forty and in forty-one, of course, there was
Pearl Harbor. I learned how to weld and then I started working in the shipyards.
FH; When did you go to work in the shipyards? I guess your pruning and fruit picking would
be all down here.
PP: In the summer time. Then I decided to learn how to weld. I went to a welding school that
a guy had in Campbell, in his backyard. Then I took the test and I went to work at the
Morris Dry Docks in Oakland and commuted back and forth. After I was there a couple
of months I had the misfortune of falling head first off the side of the damn ship. My
thigh came up and hit, I had my hands out to protect my head, my thigh came up and hit
me on the elbow and eventually they cut the head of the wrist bone out of there. It was
shattered. When it grew back again, it grew with callous material.
FH: It was the wrist? What bone?
PP: Radius. It’s one of the two bones in here. They took that out and, of course, they wouldn't
take me in the Navy or anyplace else right away, but eventually — That was in January.
They operated long about April, I think it was. The following year I did get drafted, in
FH: You came back in?
PP: '39 - actually, December, '38.
FH; Then, in '39 and '40 you worked around agriculture.
PP: Anything I could.
FH; Did you work in any of the canneries again? Were they organized by that time?
PP: Yeah, they were organized by then. But no, I never did work in a cannery again. I did
work in a packinghouse in Campbell, prunes and apricots for a season later on, but not
FH: Was that a cold storage house?
PP: No, just a big open plaee, they had prunes and different, not vats — they had a plaee about
twelve feet wide and twelve feet deep for prunes right on the floor. And then the next on -
FH; Dried prunes?
PP; Yeah, dried prunes. Then we’d shovel them by hand into saeks and they were shipped to
the paeking house where they were treated and put into eartons and stuff I did work there
As I say, I probably would have gotten drafted sooner. As a matter of faet I was going to
volunteer, but after I wreeked my elbow. No first, the reason I didn’t volunteer right after
Pearl Harbor, was that in Spain we had to be trained in the rain a little bit and I didn’t like
that. I figured, the hell with getting out in the mud. I’d wait until about May. I knew a lot
of guys who volunteered. Everybody was patriotie as all hell beeause we had been
attaeked. So I was going to wait until about May — April or May to volunteer, but then I
wrecked my elbow the seeond of January and that kept me off for about a year and a half.
I finally got drafted.
FH; Your wreeked elbow kept you out of work for a year and a half?
PP; No, it kept me out of the serviee. I eould still weld beeause it was my left arm.
When I finally got drafted. I’ll never forget, this old Marine sergeant, a real tough old
guy, he was a really good guy. He had a big pot belly and the veins in his faee showed he
was a hard drinking man. When he looked at my thing he said, “Well I’d like to have you
in the Marines, but you’re got that eleven and a half pereent disability in your left elbow.”
He said, “I’d hate to be responsible for you getting in to a bayonet fight with some big
German or a Japanese guy. You go in the Navy. The Navy baeks up the Marines anyway.
So I went in the Navy and I spent twenty-one months in the Navy.
FH; What work did you do in the Navy?
PP; I had an important job in the Navy. I stood in the doorway. . .Well I cleaned
eompartments for a while, when I first got in Honolulu. Then after I passed my test, I
beeame a Master at Arms and stood in the doorway at the Chow Hall. This is a very
important job. You tell guys they eouldn’t eome into Chow Hall beeause they weren’t in
the uniform of the day. Real important, huh?
FH; That’s one way to save food.
PP; I’ll never forget, there was [euts off]
[End Tape 3]
[Begin Tape 4 - Side 1 (A)]
FH; What was this with the POUM?
PP; The POUM was, they were very much left wing. They wanted to go beyond what the
government wanted. The government, after all, was a popular front government made up
of left wing parties like the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, anarchists, but also
moderate people - small business people and small farmers and such - a popular front
government. The POUM wanted to have a revolution within the war to collectivize all the
industries and farms and everything. The government didn’t want to do that because they
knew they’d lose the support of a hell of a lot of people. So they had to suppress the
POUM when they had an uprising in Barcelona. I don’t know the whole story of it very
well. It’s documented, but I’ve never read that much. I’ve just heard references to it.
I talked to some classes yesterday over at Aptos High School. The teacher showed this
film called “Land of Freedom.” It doesn’t show the Popular Front government in a very
good light, unfortunately.
FH; Did you ever meet any of the people from the POUM?
PP; I didn’t know anything about them because I was with the Battalion and in the hospital all
FH; When you got back you worked in agriculture and then you became a welder. How did
you become a welder?
PP; Well, I knew there were going to be a lot of welding jobs because of building ships and
stuff and it paid better than agriculture did, that’s for sure. So I joined the Machinists
Union and worked in the shipyard. Then, after I broke my arm all to hell, I finally
transferred down to Food Machinery here in San Jose. After a while I became shop
steward for the Machinists.
FH; What Local was that? Do you remember?
PP; No, I don’t. That’s fifty years ago and it’s hard to remember everything. It’s funny, as
shop steward, I took the beefs up to the superintendent wherever anything came up. He
disagreed with me one time. I’ll never forget, what happened is, this one guy was
working. And the wages were pretty low in the industry. This guy was making 85 cents
an hour as a kind of a fitter, I guess. I was getting maybe a dollar an hour welding, or
something like that. They hired another guy to be a fitter, at 95 cents an hour. This guy
who was working there, he was only getting 85 cent an hour. He was really — he was
having to teach this other guy what he was supposed to do. He came to me and told me
about it. So I went to the superintendent and he said he didn’t think it was true, that it had
happened. I said, “You’re not calling me a liar are you?” He said, “No, but I don't think it
happened.” So he and I went to the office and looked up on the records. Sure enough, it
showed the guy was getting 95 and the other guy was getting 85. So they straightened
One of the things that happened, I always remember, in one of the union meetings. I
reeruited and signed up a buneh of the women who eame to work at Food Maehinery.
They eame to work as welders and also they worked in the eleetrieal beeause they had
smaller hands and they eould work on the junetion boxes and stuff. They eould get in
there where a man eouldn’t with his hands. There were eleven of them that joined the
union. I think that was all of them at that time. More of them eame later to work there,
after I was gone.
FH; What year was this?
PP: Forty-three probably, before I went in the Navy. What was interesting is that they refused
to go to the meetings unless I would go with them. Well I intended to go. I went to every
union meeting. They were waiting for me outside. I walked up and we all sat together. I
sat in the middle, there were six on one side of me and five on the other side. I got kidded
after that about having a harem. There was a guy — there was this Italian guy. He was
okay guy, but he had old fashioned ideas. He got up in the union meeting and said that he
guessed it was okay for a woman to be working in the industry for the war effort, but
after the war’s over they should go baek and take eare of the house and the kids - in other
words, ehureh, kitehen and bedroom. He said that the men eoming baek from the serviee
would need the jobs. I got up and said, “Joe is a friend of mine, he works about twenty
feet from where I work, but I don't agree with him. Why should a gal who lost her
husband in the serviee - sure, she may get $10,000 insuranee, but that will only take eare
of her for a short time, why shouldn't she be able to do something like welding where she
eould get better wages and not have to wiggle her fanny or something to try to get tips off
some guys in a restaurant? The funny part is, I got a big hand from the guys. I mean, I
was surprised, but I guess a lot of them figured daughters, or sisters, or mothers were
working. When we got out on the street after the meeting was over these eleven gals all
eame around and hugged me [laughing]. I was in the middle and they were all hugging
me for stieking up for them. When I went in the Navy finally, the gals got together and
eaeh ehipped in some money and bought me a leather shaving thing - to put all your
shaving gear in. I don’t know what it eost them, but it was niee gear. I think I still have it
someplaee, I don’t know where it is now, but that was a long time ago. Ineidentally. . .
FH; Then you worked at FMC until you went into the Navy?
PP: Yeah. Ineidentally, you know the Veterans’ meeting we have every year. And uh — Did I
give you a pieture of me with Dorfman? The other day?
FH; That was in the Examiner? You told me about it.
PP: Well, I’ll give you a eopy of it. Anyway, a friend of mine that I lived with before I went
to Spain, for about a week previous to my going. I lived with him and his wife, and he
phoned the Examiner. Of eourse, they didn't know my phone number or anything. I’m
just the guy in the pieture, but they told him to get hold of the guy who took the
photograph. He was the guy with the beard that takes pietures at every meeting. Every
meeting he’s there always, a niee guy, Richard. I forget what his last name is. They
phoned him and he phoned me and gave me this guy’s phone number. So I phoned back
and when he said, “Jim Sanjol” I said, “Perley Payne.” He said, “It’s 61 years since I
heard your voice last.” Can you imagine that? 61 years? He’s going to come to San Jose
someday and we’re going to get together. It’s interesting. You don’t know what might
come out of your past sometimes.
FH; During the period between Spain and going into the Navy - Is that when you got married?
When did you meet Diana?
PP: In 39, the year after I got home from Spain. She belonged to a club called the New Forty
Niners. They had a little club house and everything. They had dances there.
[Interruption. He began to talk about a big strike in Salinas]
PP; It was probably in '37, because I went to Spain in '38.
FH: So, in '37, that’s when the big Salinas packing shed strike took place?
PP; I think so. It’s kind of hard to remember exact time after all these years.
FH: What is it about those little things you were talking about when the machine was off?
PP: Those little flags. They still use them when they paint, to keep you from running over the
fresh paint. I saw some the other day over there. They’re just wire and they make a circle
for it to stand, and then where wire comes up, okay, they go around about that big, and
where they meet there is a piece of wire that comes up, about six or seven inches high,
they put a little red flag on it so you won’t run over the fresh paint. I guess it was the
Examiner that claimed they were being put there by the Communists to lead people down
to help the strikers.
FH; That was the strike that Carey McWilliams characterized as fascism in Salinas. They
didn’t let anything move that spoke about justice.
PP: I remember that some of us went down there, three or four of us. They had a meeting and
this guy was a colonel, retired or something, that was running it. I think he was a colonel.
Anyway, I go the impression he was ex-army. He said, “Because we’re good Christians,
we won’t have meetings on Sunday like these other people do.” The only reason they
ever had meetings on Sunday is that that was the only time they ever had to have
meetings. They were kind of screening the people going into the meetings. So I went in
and the guy - 1 forgot what he asked me or told me, but he was big guy, a good sized
goon. I went in and listened to what this guy had to say. He was trying to organize an
opposition organization to the union. They were going to call it a union, but it wasn’t
going to be one of those radical things like the longshore people. I’m kind of confused
now, because it was so many years ago now. I just got a kick out of it.
FH: How long did you spend down in Salinas?
PP: Just one day. I just went down there to see what was going on. We went to this meeting
beeause it was there.
But you know what gets me is, there are a lot of. . .In a way it’s a wonder those guys
you’re talking about belonged to a union even. That would be kind of alien to their
thinking in a way.
FH; In the building trades it wouldn’t be alien to their thinking. In the building trades people
learned long ago that combining their power gave them better economic conditions and
the unions were, of the AFL, were really a conservative grouping. It took the CIO
movement in the thirties to reawaken the union movement to what it was all about on a
social basis, not just on an immediate economic level for the individual crafts person.
But we were talking about back a while ago about before you went into the navy you
were working for FMC, then you hurt your elbow so bad on the ships when you got your
first job as a welder. Then along came the romance in your life.
PP; I was already married when I broke my elbow. I was married in 1940. And I was working
the shipyard —
FH; How did you and Diana meet?
PP; Like I said, there was a club of young people called the New Forty Niners. They were
progressive kids. You know, kids that were interested in social issues — social justice to a
certain extent. A matter of fact, a bunch of them picketed up at the waterfront and a
longshoreman recognized their picketing and wouldn’t go through their picket line. I
know there was one guy who was really mad about that.
FH; Who was mad about that?
PP; That’s a different story, but I’ll tell you. When I got home from Spain I was in is San
Francisco for a while. I think the Y had a meeting had a meeting, the YMCA. I forget
what it was they were going to discuss, but they invited the guy who was the president of
the Waterfront Association - one of the owners of warehouses and stuff, and docks. He
came and was complaining about all his labor problems. He complained about the, even
about those kids when they picketed, and that the longshoremen recognized their picket
line. Then I knew it was the group from San Jose. And he objected to that. So I got up
and I said, “You know, at that time they were picketing because they were sending steel
to Japan.” I remember that. They’d tear up all the old railroads and streetcar lines and
send that stuff to Japan. And we got it back eventually in the form of bombs and stuff.
Anyway, I said, “The longshoremen know that if we get into war - and I’ve just been
through one war — if we get in war, it’ll be their sons that’ll be going. And they were
protesting that, I think.” He said, “Well maybe if they protested it for an hour or so, but
when they take off work for the whole day, it hurts everybody.” He was really bitching
around, you know. I don’t remember mueh more about it, but that was just before I eame
home. I was still in San Franeiseo.
FH; Did you and Diana meet in San Franeiseo?
PP: No, no, in San Jose. She was going to Roosevelt High Sehool and belonged to this elub
and they weren’t going to have a meeting one night beeause not enough people showed
up. She lived up by Alum Roek Park and I knew her. I had met her, so I asked if she
would like to go to a show with me instead. So we went to a show, the movie, and I took
FH: What was the show? Do you remember?
PP: No, I don’t remember. I remember her, but not the show. We went to the show and I
drove her home and sat out in the ear and talked for quite a while and got well
aequainted. I started dating her, not steadily, but oeeasionally, and then steadily, and then
I went to work for Standard Stations, the Standard Oil Company.
It’s real funny. My dad had no love for big eompanies, even though he was a Republiean.
He had no love for big eompanies. This guy he knew said, "Oh, I hear Perley’s working
for Standard Stations, Standard Oil Company. My dad said, "You are, too. You’re buying
their produets, so you’re working for them, too,” or something like that. He kind of stuck
up for me. Anyway, I worked for Standard and then, in the winter time they pulled the
fellas out of these smaller towns - well San Jose was a small town in those day, about
80,000. They’d pull us into Oakland and bigger cities. So I told her- 1 put it wrongly -
instead of saying I had to leave the county - 1 said “leave the country.” She got very
unhappy about that. Then I told her I’d be up in Oakland. Then on my days off used to
come down and date her.
FH: What did you use for transportation? Did you still have that car?
PP: I had a Model A Ford to go back and forth. Then I bought a V8 second hand. I worked
for Standard Stations for about a year and a half. Learned to weld while I was working
for Standard Stations. Then we finally got married and went on a honeymoon. Broken —
FH: Where did you go on your honeymoon?
PP: Up in the Sierras first. Lake Tahoe, and then it started to snow, so we got the hell out of
there. We went down by— a place by — you to Monterey, Carmel area, and then you go
inland a ways. This guy named King had a camp there where people would come and
stay. It was even on the state map, called King’s Camp or something like that. He was a
nice little guy. We had a tear drop trailer, just the size of a mattress. It started to rain and
he said, “Oh, you guys don’t want to be out in that, go ahead and use a cabin, nobody’s
using that one.” So he let us use one of his cabins. We met a lady who was working there
and her son-in-law came down to visit and we found out he worked for the Peoples
World. It was a kind of a surprise.
Then we eame home and I went on working for Standard until I deeided to weld. It was
the only time in my life that I ever took any Welfare or anything. I took Unemployment
Insuranee. I eouldn’t get it at first, beeause if you get laid off you get it, but if you quit
you had to wait so many weeks, you know. So I didn’t get it at first and we didn’t have
that mueh money. Lueky we were living in my grandma’s house and paying no rent. Paid
PP: In Campbell. It was just a little shaek.
FH; But you had been living in your father’s house before.
PP: When I got married, we moved to my grandmother’s house. We didn’t stay over with my
folks. We didn’t even have a bathtub them. We had plumbers eome over and put a
bathtub in and we lived there for about a year and a half or two years. I was living them
when I broke my elbow in the shipyards. Then after a while, my brother-in-law, Diana’s
brother-in-law rather, had built a house on Walnut Avenue in Campbell. Can you
imagine, we paid thirty-five hundred dollars for that house? Probably in forty or forty-
one. Yeah, it was before Pearl Harbor. We were in bed on a Sunday morning, listening to
the radio and found out about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. So it had to be in early forty
I told Diana that I know damn well I’ll get drafted. Then she got pregnant, but that didn’t
seem to make mueh differenee. Well, he was born before I went in. Then I finally got
drafted and went to Farragut, Idaho.
FH; What was Diana doing?
PP: She was working at Moffat Field as a seeretary.
Then I got moved to Norman, Oklahoma to ordinanee sehool. Then I found out that
married guys, if they could find a room, their wives could come back. So Olie Olsen, a
friend of mine in my company, his wife had moved there and had an empty room in the
house she was staying in. This older woman who owned it was making a good deal out of
the Navy because she was working out at the base herself and she had five bedrooms
upstairs and they were all rented to Navy and Marines, I think it was five bedrooms, and
they all had to use the same damn bathroom. So the women had to take turns washing
their clothes. I’ll give them a lot of credit. They did a lot to be with their husbands.
They’d wash their clothes in a little sink basin. They had to be careful that when they
cooked they didn’t blow the fuse all the time. They’d cook in shifts. They got along
pretty well, except for — Of course, their husbands could only be home every other
weekend when they had a day off Then, you could have Wednesday night off if you did
some extra work on the base.
FH: You were in ordinance school? 'What did you learn in ordinance school?
PP: Machine guns, rifles bomb racks and shackles, stuff like that. We teamed to take a thirty
ought six apart with our eyes closed. There was a lot of things we did.
Anyway, she came back there and this one gal from Boston, they were really snotty.
They thought they were upper class Bostonians. [Intermption] She and her husband went
to a show one night. They had a little girl, a daughter, who was about flfteen months old,
and they left her. Instead of telling the other women that they were going out, they just
went. At first she woke up and said, "Mommy, Mommy,” and then she started, the
volume of her voice increased to where she was screaming. So Diana went down there
and held her and quieted her down for quite a while. Then they come in and said, “What
are you doing here?” And Mrs. Olsen, whose room was right next to there said, she never
heard anyone get such beautiful bawling [unintelligible] without raising her voice as
when Diana told them what she thought of them as parents. The funny part of it is that
later, ITl never forget, Olie and I’d walk out to the base. It was only about a mile or a
mile and a half. We’d have to get in by twelve so we’d have to leave about eleven or
something, eleven-thirty at the most, to get back in time. I’d go down to Olie’s room and
say, what time he wanted to leave. When I came out of Olie’s room the door to the room
of this Bostonian couple was open about a foot. As I came I couldn’t help but glance in
there, because the door that I came out of opened inwards and the other door opened
outwards into the hall. I was looking right straight in and the gal was just taking off her
pants and standing there nude, side view. The only thing I regret I should have whistled
and she’d never know who it was. So I was a gentleman and just kept going. I was at
Norman for about six months.
FH: Olie, was he from San Jose?
PP: No, he was from the LA area. I only knew. . .
FH: Was he one of the guys who went to Spain?
PP: No. He was just a guy I met in the Navy, a nice guy. The Olsen who went to Spain was
Leonard. He died a while back at 92 years old. I talked to his daughter the other day on
FH: When you were in the Navy at Norman, Oklahoma, or even before, did you meet a group
of people who had similar attitudes about Spain and?
PP: It didn’t come up very much. They were mostly young kids. I was an old man as far as
they were concerned. I was 33 and most of them were from 18/19 to 23 years old. There
were three of us altogether in the company that were older. One was the company
commander. He was about —He was even older than I was, which surprised me. Then
there was another guy, Scottie, that was about 28 or something like that. Anyway, from
there we went to Farragut Idaho. No, I went to Woodbee Island, Washington, from
Norman, Oklahoma, and we took more advanced training and I got to shoot a machine
gun. I could shoot the thirty caliber really well. I shot the damn staff off of — They had a
thing on wheels that went around on a track, and I — A lot of guys never knew you had to
lead when something’s moving. You lead it. You don’t shoot at it beeause it’s gone by
the time you pull the trigger. If it’s only a seeond, it’s gone. I led this thing and I shot the
staff off it. The guys asked, “Where’d you learn to shoot?” I said, “My dad showed me
how to shoot a rifle when I was a kid.” We were there at Woodbee Island for a eouple of
months for more training. And then from there, I was shipped, I got liberty home for a
week and then we shipped out of Oakland for Honolulu. That’s where I was stationed for
the most of the war. Like I told you a while ago, for that “important” job, standing in the
door at the chow hall saying, “You can’t come in. You’re not dressed in the uniform of
the day.” It was a big contribution.
FH; Did you have any kind of a social grouping in Hawaii?
PP: There was one guy who was pretty liberal, but I didn’t know anyone else who was.
Most of the kids couldn’t care less about anything. They were interested in getting on
leave and going to town and see if they could pick up some girls or something. Well,
there was one guy in particular. You know, I wrote a letter to Stars and Stripes. I didn’t
sign my name to it. What happened was that...
[Tape 4 - Side 2 (B)]
Anyway, I wrote a letter to Stars and Stripes because. . .the government had sent a guy out
with — No, businesses sent some people out to talk to guys in the field — to talk to them
about what was going to happen after the war was over. We were still in Honolulu, you
know. They sent a union representative and some guy from business to kind of give us
some idea of what we might expect after the war. That day the old admiral decided that
he wanted to have an inspection. I don’t know why we kept having those inspections. I
don’t know what the object of them was. I think it was the ego of the admirals. Anyway,
they held this inspection. Instead of having a whole theater full of guys listening to what
they were going to go home to, because, you know, we were all going to be civilians
again, the guys were out in the field standing at attention part of the time. I wrote a letter
saying that was poor policy on the part of the admiral, but I didn’t sign my name. So they
sent the navy intelligence looking for me and a friend of mine that I told you about, he
said they came to where he was working. He was working. . .
FH; It was in the name of the First Amendment and freedom of speeeh.
PP: Not when you’re in the Navy. You don’t have freedom of speech in the Navy.
FH; When you were working at Food Maehinery, did you have freedom of speeeh there?
PP: They never paid any attention to me — except when I had a beef with the superintendent.
Anyway, they sent the Navy intelligence around, the secret CIA of the Navy, but I had
put “ordinanceman” down. I didn’t put my name. They didn’t have any ordinance people
working and I was Master-at-Arms in the chow hall by then so they never did find out
who it was. Then this guy said, “I know damn well it was you.”
FH; What were they going to do?
PP: I don’t know what they would have done - probably chewed my ass out if nothing else.
I really don’t know and I didn’t worry about it. Then the war was over and we came
FH; Diana was with you over there?
PP: Not in Honolulu. You know, it’s funny —
FH: You came back in forty-six or forty- five?
PP; Forty-five. I don’t know where I picked it up, but somewhere along the line I picked up
not believing in discrimination. We bad a Black barracks right across from the chow hall.
These guys would come through the door and I’d look them over and made sure of their
uniforms. But I always treated them like I would any white guy. I didn’t kow-tow to
them. I didn’t look down on them. I treated them as individuals. My name came up to get
ready to go home and this guy, a Black guy, that had charge of the laundry. He said, “Do
you have clothes you need laundering?” and I said, “It’s not my day.” He said, “I didn’t
ask you that. Do you have any clothes that need laundering?” I said, “Well, yeah.” He
said, “Well bring them at noontime.” I brought them at noon and at that evening’s meal
he brought all my clothes, all cleaned and pressed - like they did everybody’s uniforms
and everything and he gave them to me. Some of the other guys said, “I'd hate to be on
that door where the niggers are!” I said, “I’ll take it every day.” “Oh you can’t do that,
they’d make us rotate.” I don’t care about that. I’ll take it if you don’t want it. They don't
Just before this, they had a service — where you went around to certain barracks and
picked up the laundry. Certain barracks were designated as where the laundry would go.
So we’d go around to the barracks and pick up the laundry in “fartsacks” - mattress
covers - and we’d put them on the truck and go. I got picked to do that job for a while and
all the guys with me were Blacks. This one friend of mine said, "Oh, the Chiefs
punishing you for shooting off your face.” I said, “Is that what’s happening? I hope he
leaves me there.” “Why?” We only work two days a week. We pick up the laundry on
Monday and then pick it up again on Wednesday and take it to the barracks and doled it
out and picked it up again. Then we’d skip a day and then brought it back the next day.
That’s all there was to it. And these Black guys were so funny. I almost fell off the truck
laughing about half the time. They were really nice guys, you know. When I got ready to
go home, the last day I was on the job, 32 of the Black guys wanted to shake hands with
me. I never forgot that. And they were southern Blacks and they kind of looked at you
peek-a-boo, “hey it was sure nice knowing you.” I said, "Mutual, I’m glad I met you.” I
was always kind of proud of that.
FH; Did you ever have any problems about women?
PP: When I was in Norman, Oklahoma, I believe it was, Diana wasn’t out there yet. I had a
few days off, I came back on a Sunday and I was walking down the barracks. Were you
in the service? The barracks are long buildings with a passageway between the bunks,
and there’s four bunks on each side, double bunks. There were a bunch of guys sitting on
the top bunks and on the lower bunks. About twelve or fifteen guys there. I was
wondering what the attraction was so I stopped and this one guy said, “Yeah, I couldn’t
get rid of the bitch. She followed me around all the time until I got her pregnant and sent
her home to her mother.” Well, a lot of the kids had never had sexual relations in their
lives, they were kind of ooing and aahing, and they thought that was great or something. I
didn't agree with it. So I said, “Johnny,” I think that was his name, I don't know, I said,
“Johnny, you know, you're not a man.” He looked at me funny and I said, “You are
refusing to accept responsibility for a human life that'll come in. In other words, you
produced a little bastard. It's not her fault, it’s yours. You don’t have the guts enough to
be responsible for him. I have a son and I’m responsible for him, and I’m going to raise
him and do the best I can by him. You don’t have the guts to do that. You're not enough
of a man to do that.” I turned around and walked away. I thought he'd get down off the
bunk and take a swing at me. I was kind of waiting for him. I don't like to fight, but I
would not run away. He never got up off the bunk at all. What was nice about it was that
the next day the nicer kids, in other words the kids who were good kids, came up to me
and told me. I’m sure glad you told him that because we were in D5 with that son-of-a-
bitch, and he was no good then.”
D5 was the flying school. What happened was, they had too many guys in the pipeline
and all of a sudden - “Hey we got more pilots than we got planes. We don't know what to
do with them. So they turned them back to the regular navy. Here these guys had gone
home and even bought uniforms to be pilots and they had to be regular swabbies.
FH; Did they really have to buy their own uniforms?
FH; Did you have to buy your own uniforms to be in the regular navy?
FH; When you were in Spain, did you have to buy your uniform?
PP; In Spain? We were lucky to have clothes.
FH; How would you compare the experience in the ranks in Spain, as to the experience in the
ranks in the U.S. Navy?
PP; Quite different.
FH: In what way?
PP: In Spain, everybody was comrades and friends. In the Navy they were just guys who
were there because they got drafted.
FH: You use the word comrades. I use the word comrades from time to time and I find it’s
used in many countries.
FH: But in this country, use of the word comrade often is interpreted as meaning communist.
PP: Except for something interesting: the American Legions, they call each other
“comrades.” But, you’re right. If you call someone comrade, that indicates he or you is a
FH: But in Spain you felt comradeship.
PP: Yeah. People who were there were idealistic. They were there because they wanted to be
there. That’s the key to the thing. The guys in Spain were there because they wanted to be
there. The guys in the navy, well some wanted to be there, but a lot of them were drafted.
But a lot of them volunteered too. It was a different situation, different kind of guys, too.
The guys in Spain were devoted, you know. The guys in the Navy were there because,
they were there. Don’t misunderstand me. It wasn’t that they didn’t do a lot of fighting.
They did. The Navy caught hell in World War II. A lot of guys went down to the bottom
of the ocean.
FH: Did you find it was more democratic?
PP: Oh, in Spain it was very democratic. In the Navy it wasn’t. Everything comes from
above. Orders came from the Company Commander, down to him from — higher up and
all the way down the line. The Admiral was the top dog. It’s funny, when Diana came
back to Oklahoma to see me, we had an inspection one day. Here’s all these guys up
there in blue, maybe there were 2000 out there. Jim, my son, was just able to begin to run
pretty good, a little over a year old. She (Diana) went out with the other ladies from the
house where they were living and Jim saw all these guys out there and was sure his daddy
was out there. He went running out there and said, “Daddy, Daddy,” and she was running
around after him. The old admiral’s looking at her, you know.
Then I ran into him twice. I knew him in Norman, Oklahoma and again when we got to -
I think it may be up to Woodbee Island. I’m not sure. But I ran into him twice during my
career in the Navy. One time I saluted him. He was a southerner from the Deep South. He
said, “Son, when you’se uncovered, he used ‘you’se,’ you come to attention and I’ll
salute you” He talked just like a Black man.
FH: “When you’re uncovered?” What did that mean?
PP: I didn’t have my hat on. I had it in my hand for some reason. I was eoming downstairs in
the headquarters building. I’d been up to see the ehief for some reason. The ehief told me
I was the worst Master-at-Arms he ever had. That was beeause I never turned anybody in
the whole time. I’ll never forget - 1 was in line one day while I was on duty at the door.
There was a eontingent of Marines on board, we eall it onboard, but anyway, at the
station. They’re the Navy poliee, aetually. These two guys were doing open-hand boxing,
but you eould see that their fists were starting to elose a little bit. One guy slapped the
other guy a little bit harder than he liked. I walked out them and I said, “Hey, knoek it
off. You guys keep fooling around and one of you is going to hit the other one and you’ll
wind up in the brig and they were Marines, and I said, “The Marines will have you
walking elose-order drill.” You know what elose-order drill is? You’re just right up
against the other guy’s baek and you have to be. The whole thirty of them that were there
in line, they all broke out laughing. But there was Marine one guy there who was older
and he and I got to be, I wouldn’t say friends, but good aequaintanees. He eame by about
the time we were about to go to the ehow hall, whieh was damn near about a mile from
where we were out in the boonies in the barraeks, no, quonset huts. So he’d eome and
piek me up and take me to the ehow hall sometimes when he was on duty. But anyway,
he was quite a eharaeter. We got along good.
The only other experienee I had with Blaek guys was — I don’t know why they did it, but
they had a raid on the Blaek barraeks one night, and we were involved. Going through
their barraeks and looking in their loekers. I didn’t know what the hell we were looking
for, I suppose weapons. They didn’t have anything and they kind of resented it, I don’t
blame them. Other than that I didn’t have mueh experienee —
I took a eourse in psyehology from a Blaek guy. They have these eourses that eame out of
the University of North or South Carolina for whieh you eould get eredit. I took one in
psyehology and one in history. The psyehology teaeher was a Blaek man and one time, I
was up at the ehief s offiee for some reason or other, and this guy was Master-at-Arms of
his barraeks and also taught psyehology. And he had a job besides, whatever it was, in
the Navy, I don’t know. When he left we eould hear the door downstairs slam, the Chief
said “If that guy wasn’t Blaek, he’d be at least a Chief. He’s a very sharp guy and his
brother has a testing laboratory in New York. They weren’t dummies by any means. This
teaeher and I got to be pretty good friends. There was this one smartass Blaek kid — In
Honolulu the Blaek eooks eooked three meals in one day and then they were off the next
day. Then the white eooks eooked three meals and then they were off, too. They worked
only every other day. Of eourse, they had to get early to do breakfast and then late to do
supper and everything. This one kid, I wouldn’t let him in the ehow hall beeause he was
out of uniform. So he sneaked through the kitehen where the Blaek eooks were and I
eouldn’t see him and he finally eame walking out with a little grin on his faee. So I told
this teaeher friend of mine and that kid never would even look at me after that when he
eame through the ehow hall. The guy really ehewed his rear end beeause I was a friend of
the Blaek guy and he didn’t want him giving me any guff.
Another thing that happened. I was on duty and this one kid was a smarty and he took
about half of a cube of butter on his plate and the officer of the day was a nice guy, a
lieutenant, he came up to about my ear. He was a little short guy, but a really nice man.
We both happened to notice him take all that butter. He said, “I’m going to wait for that
son-of-a-bitch. So we waited and when he got through eating he came up to scrape what
was left into what was called the GI can and sure enough, about half the butter he’d taken
was left. It no more than hit the GI can when that officer of the day was over there and he
bawled him out like nobody I had ever heard, without swearing at him. He just told him
what a jerk he was. The kid turned green and white and all kinds of colors. By the time he
got through bawling him out there were about twenty guys there in a circle, listening. It
was kinda funny, yes indeedy.
Well, then I came home and, like I say, I —
FH: You served in two armies and didn’t see much action.
PP: No, I didn’t see any action.
FH: Two armed forces... Well you saw action across the Ehro.
PP; Yeah, I go shot at. Never shot anybody. The reason I’m alive is that I was sick all the
time in Spain. Didn’t go up to the front. Lucky. I was willing. What’s the saying, the
spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. That was me. I was willing to go to Spain but I
kept getting sick over there.
FH: They had to figure that into the equation [mumbling conversation]
PP: Sure, any number of guys... In one last town before we came home from Spain, I started
working in the first aid station. I’ll never forget, there was one kid, a young man, not a
kid. I bandaged his leg a couple of times and then it kept festering. There was a flap of
skin there and I said to him one day, I said, “it might hurt a little bit but would you mind
if I lift the flap of skin up? I bet there’s some shrapnel in there.” Sure enough there was a
piece of shrapnel about as big as your little finger just sitting in the flesh there. So I gave
it to him as a souvenir and, sure enough, within a few days the wound was practically
FH: Dr. Payne. Were you then out of the Navy?
FH: I guess you mustered out in Hawaii?
PP: No, in Camp Stoneman. Over in the Valley, this side of Stockton. It no longer exists. It
was built during the war just for the war effort and we were there for a couple of days. I’ll
never forget the chaplain, he got up and said, “Now when you get home, if you want
some coffee, let you wife, the little woman, fix it. That stuff you guys been drinking is
FH: “The little woman,” that’s not a frequently heard expression today. When you came
out, did you get a joh right away? Did you have GI benefits?
PP: Yeah. I went to school and had the GI Bill.
FH: What was the GI Bill?
PP: That’s something they passed that paid your way through school — or a part of it, as an
incentive to get a better education. For servicemen — and women.
FH: Would you call that affirmative action for servicemen and women?
PP: Well. I have a different idea of affirmative action than you do. It was just to give men
and women a chance to go to college or whatever they wanted - what kind of learning
they wanted. It was the biggest boost to United States industry that ever happened
because we had all those guys that were getting educated, getting trades and stuff Then,
when got in the race with the Russians, we were able to keep up in a way. But that was,
in my estimation, stupid too, because it put our country way in debt, even though Reagan
figured he saved the world from communism by building all these planes and stuff and
made the Russians do it to equal us and it broke them. They went bankrupt. So anyway, I
don’t know. There's so much in this world I don't know.
FH: When you got out of the Navy, did you come back to Santa Clara County, to Campbell?
FH: What kind of work did you do then? Did you move into your grandmother's house, or did
you have your own place by then?
PP: When I first got home, I started working with my dad again. Then my brother and
brother-in-law, we went together and bought a jeep and a spray rig and we did a lot of
back yard spraying for people. Then we had a saw that went in the back, there was a
pulley there. You could put a belt on it, and run the saw, and we sawed up people's wood
up for them. I’ll never forget, my brother-in-law somehow caught his hand and cut his
hand pretty badly with the damn wood saw. He came over to me. I was bringing wood to
him. He was pushing the saw and I was brining wood to him. He came over to me and
showed me his hand. So I went and turned off the jeep and disengaged the —
FH: The jeep was rigged to turn a circular saw?
PP: Yeah, it was a circular saw. Sawed firewood. It ran off the jeep motor.
FH: How did it do that?
PP: It had a gear box that went baek to the baek end, and there was a pulley there, and then
you had a belt that went on from the pulley to the saw. Anyway, I took him to the doetor
and the doetor had to sew up his hand. He wanted to make sure he didn’t eut the nerve so
he reached in with a pair of forceps and squeezed the nerve. I’ll never forget, I had hold
of my brother-in-law’s wrist and he practically lifted me of the floor. His favorite cuss
word was “puta nellie.” He yelled, “puta nellie” But then he got well and was okay.
We kept on doing the spraying. My brother had quit being a partner and went to L.A.
with his wife for job he had down there, or something he had down there. Just Bill and I,
and then Elfie Bamhard who was the county Director of the Extension service came out
to my house one day. He said he was looking for somebody and if I’d be interested in
going to work for the university. He told me what the pay was and that they had
FH; What kind of work were you doing at that time?
PP: I was still working with my brother-in-law spraying and grafting trees, too, whatever I
could find. So Diana and I talked it over and we figured, gee, you get paid vacations and
all kinds of stuff We were getting by, but not doing too great. So I decided to take it.
I went to work for $272 a month. Then I kept getting raises over the years.
FH: What was the work?
PP: I worked for the Agricultural Extension Service. They call it Cooperative Extension
Service nowadays. We worked for farmers. They had a specialist that worked with row
crops. They had a guy who worked with deciduous fruit. Then they had one farm adviser
who worked with Eour H. Another guy worked for strawberries. I think there were five of
us altogether. Anyway, I worked at that for 3 1 years and finally retired. After I retired
I’ve been taking it easy but I don't know where all the time has gone. So that’s the story
of my life, more or less.
FH: Well, it’s not quite the story of your life. You worked 31 years for the University and
then you became a farm adviser. What was your first work?
PP: When I first went to work there, I was hired on as Senior Superintendent of Calabasas (?).
A big long title, but the lowest amount of money of all of the office. After I was them a
few years, we had a guy. . .a guy came as a boss, a county director, and he asked me about
how long I worked for the Extension Service. He says, “You, know. I’d like for you to be
able to get a bigger pension.” So he talked to the guys at Berkeley and he said, “Well,
maybe they can do something the last three years which would boost my pension a little
bit.” Then we got another boss. This guy went away - got promoted or something. The
other guy said, “Well, if they can do it the last three years, why can’t they do it now?” So
then I got what they call grandfathered in, blanketed in, as a farm adviser and worked as a
farm adviser the last few years of my career.
FH: Just for the last three years?
PP; No, probably the last five or so — I became a farm adviser. The funny part was, that the
first year I got transferred over, we got a ten dollar raise, and if had I stayed at the
Extension Service —
[End Tape 4]
[Begin Tape 5 - Side 1 (A)]
[Lost some dialog changing tapes. Online version jumps from part 7 of 9, to part 9 of 9]
FH; One of the things we came to complain about during the sixties, organizing around the
farmworkers, was that the U.C. Extension Service and Ei.C. Earm, or State Earm Advisers
were all directed toward making the growers and agribusiness people much more
comfortable in their profit picture, than anything else. The farm workers what their lives
were like, and their conditions of work, were never part of what went on in terms of
research with public money. Did you get confronted with that issue at any point?
PP; Yes. I remember when the farm workers would be striking. And I remember one time
they were picketing for some reason, they were picketing Casa de Eruta, you know where
that is? They were picketing that for some reason, I don’t know why.
FH; They were carrying scab grapes.
PP; Whatever it was. The guy I was with said “Why don't they go home?” or something like
that I said that they’re just trying to better themselves just like you did only you went
through the university to help yourself out. These people never had the opportunity to go
to university or anything. They always have to work, [unintelligible] work all their lives,
same as their folks before 'em.
Now a lot of them are hoping their children don't have to do that. So a lot of their kids are
going through college and I'm glad to see it. Because, now the farm workers have people
of their own background, of their own culture, with an education and they can do a lot
more, like some of them become attorneys and fight for their own people. But you’re
right, the Extension Service, its mission, they call it, is to help farmers do a better job of
farming, help at disease control and insect control, irrigation problems, and fertilizer,
anything to do with farming. Although they have a program now that tries to help farm
women with better means of cooking and home making, they work with them. They call
it ENAP Program, I forget what the hell ENAP stands for, but anyway, they work with
anyone they find interested in being helped. Basically, the Agricultural Extension is
aimed at farmers.
FH; Did you maintain your political activity and association and activity with the Lincoln
PP: Yeah, but my wife doesn't like to drive up to San Franciseo very mueh so I don’t go to
their monthly meetings. But we did, we’ve been to some of them. I went to the annual
meetings all the time. And while I worked for the Extension Service I got in arguments
with some of my fellow Extension people about the Earm Workers, because I stuck up for
them. But there wasn’t much controversy because most of the guys didn’t even discuss it
Oh, I've got to tell you something funny. There’s a winery, the guys I was with who dies
pretty young, Wente, the Wente Vineyards, over in Eivermore. Carl Wente was one of
the regents for the state university. Eor a farmer, he was a very progressive guy. He made
the statement that we have to get so efficient in agriculture so we can pay the same wages
that these guys make in the industry. Whether they work in agriculture or industry, their
money buys the same amount of food. And the ones that work for us don’t make as much
money. And this one guy who was a farm adviser, a real jackass, he said, “Oh, we can't
afford it.” He used to farm a little bit, so he knew the problems — ” Carl said “We have to
get that efficient.” It always amazed me because the farm adviser guy was anti — And he
got. . . Anyway, that’s another story. Wente died very young, he was about 52 when he
died or something like that. But I didn’t get in too many arguments because some of the
guys I worked with, particularly one guy, two of them. One of the guys I worked with
was a Democrat and very liberal and a couple of the others were Democrats, too. Not far
left of me, but liberal guys. Pretty good guys.
FH; When you say “far left of me,” during the time you were coming toward the Spanish
Civil War, you talked about how you met folks who were socialists and probably
communi s ts among then. You mentioned one guy who was a communist organizer.
PP: Yeah, that’s Euke Hindman, he became a head scout in Spain.
FH: He also was one of the guys who influenced you to want to go to Spain.
PP: Yeah, he didn’t want me to go.
FH: But he influenced you to want to go?
PP: Yeah, he didn’t want me to go. But he went and I thought that if Euke can go, I ought to
go, too. He was a nice guy. He died about three or four years ago. He lived up in Covalo.
He had gotten arrested trying to organize farm workers and when Culbert Olson was
governor and a bunch of them got arrested for criminal syndicalism or something like
FH: That’s what they called some of it.
PP: But Olson pardoned the whole bunch. They never went to jail. But I don’t know whether
that, how much that influenced Euke’s thinking. But he went up to Covalo and worked in
a frog mill up there. I don't think they ever organized it, even. He kind of crawled away in
the boonies like a wounded bear or something. I went up to see him a couple time. Well
once, or twice, once, visited him, and we talked about things. Like I said a while ago
about Communists when they are so strict, if you don’t agree with them 100% then
you've got to be a Trotskyite or something or a traitor or an FBI agent or something. Luke
was living up there and he had an attic and some guy from San Francisco, I guess be used
to work for the People’s World or something, came up them because he was sick and all
he needed was rest and it's quiet up there. He stayed there. And, by god, Luke got
accused of running a school for Trotskyites or some goddam thing. He just let the guy
FH; He was accused by the Communist Party People?
PP: By the Communist Party people, yeah.
FH; Then he was expelled?
PP; He must have dropped out by then, I don’t know.
FH; Were you ever— Did you ever become a Communist?
PP; Let me put it this way. I was member of the Communist Party at one time, but I wasn’t
really a Communist.
FH; What was the difference between being a member am not being a Communist?
PP; Some of the stuff they put forward I never could understand. I paid my dues and stuff and
I dropped out. After Spain I never went back in again. As a matter of fact, a lot of the
guys didn’t. I think I was like Bill Bailey probably never, I assume he was a Communist,
once, I’m not sure, but a lot of guys like him never went back in again.
FH; I assume he didn’t, just by attitude of the other vets who I knew were Communists.
PP; Asa matter of fact, the editor from the Peoples World wrote a book about it, A1
Richmond, The View from the Left, I think. I forget the name of the book, but he wrote
about things like that, that happened, that he didn’t agree with. That’s why he dropped
out, too. People were dropping out, left and right. Some of them through fear during the
McCarthy times, you know? I did something I was always ashamed of —
FH; Also, people who stayed in order not to be among those who went out for fear, or who
went out to save their ass. There were a fair amount of people who stayed in the
Communist Party because they had no respect for those who left out of fear or
opportunism during the tough times.
PP; I started to tell you something — What I was ashamed of, the reason was, I destroyed
some books I had. One of them was a book that several veterans had signed for me in
Spain, just for the heck of it. I was a newlywed with a pregnant wife and McCarthy was
at full bay and, I didn’t want any problems if they came to search my house or something.
So I got rid of these books. I always felt bad about that after I thought about it later
beeause it was none of their business what books I owned, but it might have eaused me
problems. I don’t know.
FH; There were thousands of people who did just that. What made you think that they might
seareh your house?
PP; Well, beeause of the faet — I know that the FBI had my name and as a matter of faet,
when I worked for Extension Serviee we were upstairs in the post office right down the
hall from the FBI and old Louie Wine, the bastard, one time he said, “How’s the
proletariat?” I said, “Louie, you’ll have to ask them.” Louie Wine was an FBI agent, a
kind of a jackass. The other guys. Moose Marron and a couple other guys there, I used to
talk to them all the time, get along fine with them. I’m sure they knew who I was, but
they didn’t try to pull any fast ones. But Louie, in an expression my old man used to use,
thought he’d cut a fat hog in the ass or something.
FH: Moose Marron - he was there in the sixties.
PP: He was there when I worked upstairs in the post office. He had a bum heart. I found out. I
grafted trees for him one time, pollinizer in his cherry trees. I put one lemon in it, that’s
FH. What year was it that you were working up in the old post office?
PP: I don’t remember. I went to work for the Extension Service in about the late forties,
maybe early fifties, somewhere in there. We were in [unintelligible] Glen. We stayed
there until we moved out on Moorpark Avenue next to McKinnon School, it was a county
building that we got. One end was the alcoholic clinic and we were in the other end.
Anyway, I enjoyed working for the Extension Service because I learned a lot. You know,
I think when you learn it is when someone challenges you with a question and you don’t
know the answer for it and you have to look it up and find it out. Of course, I had access
to all the specialists at Davis and Berkeley, on the telephone. I learned a heck of a lot.
That’s why this one guy suggested they’d make me a farm adviser. He said, “Jeez, you’re
doing the same work as the farm advisers are doing,” which I was, more or less. I didn’t
know all the things they knew, but I was doing the same thing.
FH: Those years when you were working upstairs in the post office were the years when the
post office became rather integrated. It was integrated before private industry. Do you
remember any changes that took place when the post office changed? Well, it was right
across the street from the last hanging in San Jose.
PP: Yeah, this friend of mine told me I, “Let’s go in town they’re raiding the jail. Let’s go in
town” I didn’t want to see anybody get hung. “What would I want to do that for?” “Oh
yeah, but Jeez, it’s exciting.” So I said, “Get someone else to take you. I’m not going.” I
didn’t want to go to see ‘cm. I figured they should let the law take care of it. If they did
something had, they should have a trial and go to jail the rest of their life or something.
FH; Do you remember who the Chief of Poliee was then?
PP; Lyle, I think. The chief or the Sheriff Lyle. Lyle and Emmick (?) used to trade off being
Sheriff One of them got elected one time and the other the next time and the other hack
again the next time, three or four times. But I think Lyle was in charge at the time.
FH; And Blackmore?
PP: He was the Chief of Police.
FH; Did you ever have any interaction with him?
PP: I don’t even know who the hell he was, except by name. I didn’t know the other one was
Sheriff. I knew some of the guys that worked there, guards and detectives. I knew a
couple of them just by the fact that we used the same garage they used. You’d see them
and you’d talk to them sometimes.
[FH says something about remembering an Italian cop with long hair, trails off]
I remember seeing a lot of the guys, but the only one I got to know a little bit, very quiet,
very quiet guy. You know, some of these guys who wind up in jail, it's their own damn
fault. They’re stupid. This guy who wound up in jail he was a trustee. He worked over in
county garage. He didn’t grease the cars, but he gassed them and cleaned the windshields
and stuff like that. He was going to be let out there in about thirteen days or something
and he walked away from the county garage one day. They didn’t really watch him while
he was there, they were trustees, and he walked away. And this guy was with his wife and
one or two of his kids were over on the beach at Capitola and goddam, looked over and
here’s this guy about twenty feet from him. He very quietly got up and went to, not
Aptos. Whafs the other little beach over there, Soquel. He got a Soquel cop to come and
arrest the guy.
FH: Felony escape.
PP: Stupid bastard. But there was another guy, I remember, at the County Jail. I used to talk
to the trustees because they used to gas my car up and stuff. I drove a county car part of
the time. This one guy was saying, “Well they got me they didn’t get no virgin. I been in
here before.” And he was going on like that. Then I found out what happened. He drank a
lot and he would use the money. He had four or five kids and a wife and she was on
welfare when he was in jail. And when he got out, of course they were supposed to get
off welfare. But he started drinking so she turned him in to his probation agent because
she could make more money being on welfare to take care of her kids then having him
around the house drinking up what little money he made.
FH; So it was better for her as long as he was in the coop.
FH; During those years, did you get involved in any of the local political scene?
PP: Not really, other than walk precincts for some guys like Edwards or somebody like that a
few times, but not otherwise.
FH: The Civil Rights Movement came about in the early sixties.
PP: I remember marching in San Jose for one of the civil rights deals and we went by this one
door, Dick Cox. Do you know Dick Cox? He and I been friends for about sixty years.
This lady said, “Dick, what are you doing out there?” And he said, “What are you doing
in there?” After we walked with the Black people.
FH: That might have been the biggest march that was the same day as the march in
Washington in 1963. We had about a thousand people out and we walked up Second
Street, through St. James Park.
PP: Yeah, and then around to First Street and then back. That’s where we saw this woman
who was a friend of Dick’s. At least he knew her. In the store there, that’s when she
asked him that question. Dick Cox was a very liberal guy. A real good guy, he and his
wife, both. She and her brother, were Republicans and when something happened, I
forget what it was, something happened, and they both went down that day and changed
their registration to Democrat.
[FH talks about changing his registration, and the session trails off and becomes irrelevant]
[End of interview]